Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Rape, Caste-Based Violence.
I remember reading about the Hathras case at least a week ago and the gruesome details left my conscience shaken. The injuries on the girl’s body. They told that they had found the girl battered and bleeding. Parents’ plight as they faced threats. And how her family said that they were used to staying quiet.
ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVABLE – Right behind me is the body of #HathrasCase victim burning. Police barricaded the family inside their home and burnt the body without letting anybody know. When we questioned the police, this is what they did. pic.twitter.com/0VgfQGjjfb
— Tanushree Pandey (@TanushreePande) September 29, 2020
This news was covered eleven days after the horrific incident. At the time, Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir said she has severe injuries on her neck as well. But, what was tragic is that the mainstream media did not cover anything related to the incident. They were focused on Rhea Chakraborty, the Bollywood drug ‘rackets’ where a lot has to be proven, and the journalists were chasing Deepika’s car while she was on her way to the NCB office for questioning.
Sushant Singh Rajput did not leave behind any notes but we saw the media becoming the judge, jury, and the executioner in the case, even though the Bihar Police, the Mumbai Police, the ED, CBI, and NCB were all investigating it. After a verbal exchange with Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Kangana Ranaut was given CRPF’s Y+ security.
Kangana Ranaut’s tweets, investigation on Sushant, and other Bollywood stories served as a perfect distraction from the rising COVID-19 cases, worsening GDP, the farmers’ protest, and many sexual assault cases.
Before mentioning the Hathras incident, it is crucial to call attention to the following incidents too. In Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur, earlier this month, three back-to-back rape cases were reported within a period of three weeks. A 13-year-old girl was raped and murdered. A 17-year-old Dalit girl was found dead outside her village after she had left home to fill a scholarship application. A 3-year-old was also found raped and strangulated.
There were also other forms of gender-based violence, including this nauseating case where a father of five girls ripped open his pregnant wife’s stomach to check the gender because it was foretold that they will have another girl. Ironically, the foetus was said to be a boy. But, the point is that misogyny comes in different forms, from not wanting a daughter to violating women’s bodily integrity. Seeds turn into plants.
I have referred, one-after-the-other, to articles about the increase in domestic violence during the lockdown. The year also saw a surge in sexual violence. It seems to me like a lot of lascivious and sadistic perverts have treated this lockdown as an opportunity to attack women and children, especially from marginalized castes, who are also subjected to fear.
Now, as mentioned above, the media did not talk about the Hathras case until after she succumbed to her injuries. It was then that the media, as well as netizens, saw the brutality of the crime and the sad state of affairs. What’s more angering is the handling of the case. Just because it just makes one ask more questions as a result of both frustration and confusion.
Her mother said that when she found her she was bleeding. She was transferred to three hospitals and finally died while in AIIMS. During this time, the accused had allegedly showered threats to the victims’ kin. After she died, in a disquieting and infuriating move, the police cremated her at midnight in the absence of her family. Journalist Tanushree Pande’s reports gave us more details.
#Hathras victim burnt against her family’s will. Police locked family members & locals inside the house & forcibly burnt the body. Family couldn’t even see their daughter for one last time.
If torture done to the girl was horrific. This is beyond humanity. We’re finished pic.twitter.com/WkBiyHWLbF
— Tanushree Pandey (@TanushreePande) September 29, 2020
The police poured petrol and kerosene to bring up the flames and burnt her into a cinder. Their explanation was that they wanted to prevent possible mob anger. Her brother said, “My father had almost fainted and was lying on a charpoy here when the cremation took place. The person at the site of the cremation was someone else.” A viral video showed the police reportedly told the family, “In this extraordinary situation, you have to accept that you have made some mistakes.”
Another video showed the District Magistrate telling the family that the “media will leave in 2-3 days,” and that it is up to them to change the statement.
As per the latest reports, ADG Law and Order Prashant Kumar said, “No semen has been found in the forensic report. The FSL report has already clarified that there was no rape on the victim.” However, they acknowledged the injury to her spine and neck. The officer added that they will take action against those who spread misinformation about caste tensions.
Like, why would either the girl or her mother lie about the rape? The reports suggested that the medical examinations were done days after the incident and it can explain the absence of semen. And, the body was burnt by the police at midnight in the family’s absence.
Amidst the outrage over this incident, another gangrape and murder of a 22-year-old Dalit girl took place in Balrampur. The incident happened when she had gone out to get admission in a college. Even her body was cremated at night, hours after pronouncing her death.
This is a question that will be raised by the supporters of the ruling party. There was much conversation about how unsafe Delhi is after the Nirbhaya case. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was slammed for her response to the Park Street rape case, and for not releasing 2019 NCRB data from the state. The arrest of a gang-rape survivor in Bihar was also condemned.
When it comes to UP, one cannot ignore the National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) Crime in India, 2019, report which revealed that Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 59,853 incidents of crime against women and girls. The emergence of back-to-back cases also highlights lapse from the side of the authorities or in the police investigation and it should not be passed over.
The ruling government began Beti Bachao Beti Padao, and questions arise whether they are living up to the slogan, especially when the victims are being cremated at midnight.
Whenever a brutal atrocity takes place, politicians throw blame at each other and bring down the party. BJP’s 2014 election campaign had the ‘Nirbhaya’ incident in their kitty. The same leaders are now requesting both media and the public to “avoid politicizing” rape.
Smriti Irani, who leads the Women and Children Development Ministry, had taken a dig at Rahul Gandhi after an elephant was tragically killed in Kerala. But she did not give an official statement about the cases in UP, except retweeting CM Yogi Adityanath.
One can feel safe only when the ruling government takes it upon themselves to hold both perpetrators, as well as the lapse from the side of the authorities, accountable. The current ‘blame-game’ culture only makes one feel the opposite of safe.
Currently, the Hathras village is contained and barricaded, preventing media and opposition leaders from visiting, suppressing voices of dissent. Women who were protesting against the incident were manhandled and beaten in Delhi.
The December 16th incident itself should have been a case on how the authorities must be held accountable because they could have stopped the crime. Now, after seeing the image of the cremation and hearing the police denying rape, even though the woman mentioned that in her statement, one simply feels less confident.
The caste angle should not be disregarded. Women and children face sexual violence but women from marginalised caste have to face atrocities because of their caste and gender.
Human Rights Watch has said that “largely uneducated and consistently paid less than their male counterparts, Dalit women make up the majority of landless labourers and scavengers, as well as a significant percentage of the women (sic) forced into prostitution in rural areas or sold into urban brothels.”
Historical texts and events have mentioned that sexual violence is used to suppress, control, and scare women into submission. Due to the largely conservative culture and perspective, women are burdened with higher moral standards and tags like “honour.” So, attacking a woman is often looked like an attack on that community.
National Crime Records Bureau 2016 data revealed that Dalit women face the worst forms of sexual violence amongst women from all categories.
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The NCRB’s 2019 report states that crimes against women increased 7.3% from 2018 to 2019, 4 rapes of Dalit women occur every single day. The violence perpetuated against Dalit women is the most brutal, reminding us that despite all the argument, caste remains a major factor behind sexual violence in India. #hathrascase #violenceagainstwomen #castebasedviolence #violenceagainstdalitwomen #dalitwomenslivesmatter
Despite having strong laws, social ostracisation and processing issues, incidents are rarely reported or prosecuted. Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Studies said, “most of the crimes against Dalit women are never even reported.” An NGO, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, reported that over 23% of Dalit women report being raped, and many have reported multiple instances of rape.
The protection of women and children from marginalised caste communities has to be checked and ensured. In Hathra’s case, her mutilated body, her photo, and her name were all revealed on social media, denying her right to dignity. This has to be condemned as well.
There will be more “Nirbhayas,” “Kathuas,” “Dishas,” and “Hathras” if the rape culture is not addressed and corrected. Calling out rape culture should go beyond candlelight marches, demands for the death penalty or castration, hashtags on social media, and more.
Former union minister Sushma Swaraj said that “a lot of laws have been made. A lot of empowerment programmes are done for women but what should change in men’s attitude.” When it comes to ‘men’s attitude’ it is important to criticise defenders of rape.
Recently, a former supreme court judge delivered a bizarre remark saying that “sex is a natural urge in men.”Added to that, the current system of preventing rape by ‘over-protecting’ women and denying them their constitutional rights will further regressive notions where men see them as ‘less equal’. This has been happening for centuries, generations, where women had to face fire to escape the wrath of patriarchy, losing agency in the process. It is hard to look at Twitter and see the current situation around the case as well as the voices of opposition.
When the Kathua incident happened, I had hoped that I would not have to write a piece like this.
The voices should be louder and clearer. Marginalised voices should be amplified.
On a personal note, I hope that the women and girls of Hathras, Balrampur, and Lakhimpur, will get justice. I hope that the media will cover it the way it needs to be. I hope that the nation won’t witness another travesty of justice.