TW: Rape, Sexual Assault, Caste-based violence
A piece of news which shook the entire country at the end of September 2020; the alleged rape and subsequent death of a 19-year-old Dalit Valmiki girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Merely 200 kms from the national capital. The girl’s body was later “cremated” late at night without the consent of her parents and family. Barely 24 hours after this, another Dalit Woman in Balrampur was raped and she too later succumbed to her injuries.
Following this incident there is a lot of outpour of anger and rage on social media and numerous protests are happening. The victim is being called “Nirbhaya“, referring to the 2012 rape case where a woman was gang-raped in a moving bus which resulted in nation-wide protests and outcry.
A lot of people are expressing their reservations against referring to this girl as a “Dalit rape victim”. According to them her caste identity is irrelevant and is actually a diversion from the “real” issue. For them, the mention of her caste will lead to the politicisation of the whole issue. Some are also of the opinion that the whole thing is just a part of a larger “malicious” agenda of talking about caste.
The Dalit identity of the girl is important because sexual assault and rape are among the top crimes committed against Dalits. 8 Dalit women are raped every day in India and Uttar Pradesh has the most victims. It is one of the worst affected states in the country considering Dalit violence. NCRB data shows that the conviction rate of crimes against Dalits and Adivasis are much less than the others.
Rape is not always about sexual gratification. Rape is an act of aggression and an assertion of power and it is often used as a tool for “showing people their place”, “teaching them a lesson” or for exacting revenge. It’s also used as a punishment and justification for sexual deviance. The justification ranges from going out at night, wearing short clothes, talking to men, etc. We’ve even had examples in our country where a girl was raped for scoring good marks in exams.
If we decide to ignore the caste identity of the girl, we might actually be ignoring the motive and reason behind the assault. The reason why the number of rapes is so high is that the perpetrator is confident that he won’t be punished. He will get social, political and cultural protection by the virtue of his caste. An organisation called “Rastriya Savarna Parishad” came out to support the boys.
Historically, the sexuality, body and labour of Dalit women have been treated as public property. These sexual assaults and rapes are not to be treated as isolated incidents, but a result of systematic misogyny and casteism. We also have examples of two other women. Nirbhaya’s body was not cremated against her parent’s wishes nor were the Hyderabad veterinarian’s parents mistreated This difference in treatment and behaviour by the system and the Police for similar crimes is evidence enough of discrimination against Dalits.
Intersectional Feminism is about looking into the deep cause of the crimes against Dalit women. The accounts of a Dalit woman and her experiences with sexism and casteism would be very different from that of a Savarna woman and even a Dalit man. These women fall at the lowest rung of the social hierarchy and its time now more than ever for them to find their narrative and for us to listen to their voice.