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Why Are We Scared Of Using The Word ‘Dalit’ When Talking About The Hathras Rape Case?

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Trigger warning: Mention of sexual violence

What excuse do we have this time? Yet again, a girl has been raped and murdered. Have we not changed after the gruesome death of Nirbhaya and all the other heinous incidents of rape and harassment that followed? Wasn’t the verdict of the Nirbhaya case expected to bring a wave of social change?  But here we are again, with the same blame-game yet another time, from judiciary to the laws and society. It is not for the first time that a Dalit girl has been brutally raped.

Many of those living in their dream-like, egalitarian world would still have questions about why we need to mention the girl’s caste when they think this ladder of social hierarchy has been long dismantled. But it very much exists and is influential in society. Well, to no one’s surprise, people from Dalit communities are placed at the bottom of this social hierarchy, having faced humiliation and oppression for years.

Now, with the Hathras case, one realises that Dalit women further discriminated and oppressed by one more degree, because of their gender. These women have undergone severe caste discrimination, which has led to cases of extreme violence and heinous atrocities. A member of the Dalit community is denied a voice in the mainstream and opportunities to find financial stability. This amplifies their exposure to violence and harassment. We claim ourselves to be growing and evolving in our ethics and mindset. But the truth remains that all of it might be changing at a very slow pace, even among literate populations.

It is important to not let the experiences of Dalits fade from mainstream media because it’ll lead to the police and political system denying fair representation to the Hathras girl’s family. Because of their marginalised position within the social hierarchy, their family is more oppressed and less privileged than the family of the alleged culprits. Clearly, it is easier to hush their voices.

A 19-year-old Dalit girl was raped and the police forcibly burnt her body without informing the family. Since the culprits were above in social hierarchy, they will now have some sort of social capital to get away without any strict punishment.

Further, let’s get into India being considered one of the best democracies in the world, with its appreciable Constitution. Looking at all that is happening around us, our democracy seems to be in a crisis. The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to every citizen. Additionally, it has laws in place to protect minority communities from oppression and help them in their upliftment. But it seems as if these laws are only meant to exist in writing. To list a few following are the rights and acts:

  1. Article 15 prohibits discrimination of Indians on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  2. Article 21 ensures protection of life and personal liberty.
  3. According to Article 46“The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.”
  4. Article 338 established the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  5. The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of AtrocitiesAct, 1989, protects people from the SC and ST communities from crimes.

In the Hathras case, the victim has not received protection through these Acts so far and suffered at the hands of the state. And yet, we say women from all backgrounds are safe and have equal opportunities.

We blame the society, but the society is us. 

For yet another time, we are caught in a never-ending spiral of questions: what makes this happen?, where do we go wrong?, whom do we put the blame on?, while we as society blame the criminals, what must not be forgotten is that it is we who form the society. We are the ones who put ethics and social attitude in place.

We say casteism is dead, but it is very much prevalent within our lives. In order to bring attention to it, it is casteism when we keep separate utensils to serve water or food to our house help or the man who collects garbage from your home. Because the Hathras girl belonged to a marginalised community, political institutes are more inclined towards the culprits, and this mindset of even those educated from reputed institutions who do not have any meaningful opinion to offer sums up the existing situation of 2020 quite well. This brings to forefront the amount of work yet to be done by our laws and society.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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