By Misha Dwivedi:
A recent campaign by Amnesty International on behalf of two Indian women from UP has been gaining immense support worldwide. I bet you will be taken aback by what gave birth to the petition in question. Till now we have developed a collective understanding of rape as a crime punishable by law, an offense that rightly deserves the harshest punishment possible. But did you know that a self-proclaimed (unelected) all-male Khap Panchayat in the Baghpat village of Uttar Pradesh uses rape as a corrective measure? It seems to be used as a tool to keep in check the women of the village.
The council of elders has ruled that 23-year old Meenakshi Kumari and her 15-year-old sister (both belonging to the Dalit caste) shall be raped and paraded naked in Baghpat with their faces blackened. What could bring about such an inhumane decision, you ask?
The couple was in love and fled after the woman (who belonged to the Jat caste) was forced to marry someone from her own caste group. The Khap members wish to make an example out of the Dalit sisters by publicly outraging their modesty for their brother’s actions and further establish the importance and prominence of the already well-entrenched caste politics in the UP area.
The Amnesty petition which calls for the local law-enforcement authorities to intervene and prevent this ‘disgusting ruling’ from being enforced has already garnered almost 170 thousand signatures. It reiterates the fact that nothing can justify this abhorrent, barbaric, illegal and arbitrary punishment. Kumari also approached the Supreme Court of India herself last week, saying that the local police has been harassing her and her family instead of protecting them. In a plea to the court she said that she and her family “cannot return back to her village and have been rendered homeless.” She also alleged that the police have implicated her brother in a false narcotics case on the orders of the ruling community. Meenakshi’s family moved to Delhi after which their house in the village was allegedly ransacked and taken over by the dominant Jat community. The court has now ordered the local police to respond.
This case is a disturbing amalgamation of three illegal characteristics that still prevail in Indian society despite their criminal nature- Khap Panchayats, crimes against women and caste politics. Although Khaps were declared illegal by the apex court in 2011, on account of promoting honour killings, they are still functional at the grassroots level and their word is law for the mostly illiterate and backward communities they rule over. Crimes against women are often supported by these councils due to their archaic belief in the inferiority of women and their patriarchal need to ‘own’ them. More often than not, women from the lower castes are deemed fit to face the ire of the Khap councils which comprise old men from the higher castes of the village. India is the only country in the world where casteism is still up and running, and instances like these make me wonder if it is possible to curb this menace at all.
This is not the first instance where rape is recommended as a curative tool. According to police reports, many families in South India use rape as a corrective measure in an attempt to ‘cure’ homosexuality. Unbelievable? Google it and you’ll find a story about a boy forced to have sex with his mother. (Not for the faint-hearted)
Note: You can sign the petition here.