Trigger Warning: Rape, Caste-based Violence
It is unfair to call ourselves progressive if some of us UPPER CASTE people disagree with mentioning the victim’s caste in rape crimes or working for a campaign led by the oppressed caste to end the oppression of all forms. In Hathras, the gang-rape of a 19-year-old shook the collective consciousness of India. The reason we feel so strongly about the case is the honest work of a few gutsy journalists and their media indignation that compelled us to question our moral conscience and the society we have built.
With the media outrage came a group of people who pounced on media for mentioning the caste of the victim and giving it a caste angle. You keep hearing them say “Rape is rape and it happens irrespective of the caste and religion”, “Don’t bring in caste in rape cases” and “Don’t politicise rapes”.
People, including, some ‘feminists’ are ready to accept rape as an abuse of power than merely about sex, but then apparently, the same theories don’t apply to Dalit women being raped by UPPER CASTE MEN.
How flawed this understanding is that they talk about rape as a war weapon but don’t want to talk about caste—it simply becomes random sexual misconduct in cases of Dalit women.
If you understand that rapes have a lot to do with abuse of power and a sense of entitlement, you will understand why caste is being mentioned. In this case, the relevance of caste is to show that the crime was propagated to such an extent because the victim was a Dalit. And this kind of rape is not only an act of sexual violence against women but is an aggravated form of hate crime. These are not just heinous criminal activities but power dynamics at work resulting in the systematic oppression of lower castes by UC for generations now.
The offence was committed against her not only because of her anatomy but also because she was Dalit, who does not enjoy the privilege or agency in society and is repeatedly subjected to dehumanization. Rape is not only used as a patriarchal tool of dominance, it is also a casteist brahminical tool of dominance, one that disproportionately affects Dalit and Bahujan women.
There has always been a trend of sexual assaults on Dalit women by Upper Caste men—who always go scot-free. The casteism is later made the defence as in “an Upper Caste man would not touch an untouchable woman”. Hence, caste enables rape and then defends the rapists too.
If you do not understand why rapes have a lot to do with abuse of power, sense of entitlement, and think it is just about sexual desire/lust, then you are being sceptical about the reality. Rapes are not always about sexualisation or gender inequality. More often, they are a means of abuse, subjugation, and oppression.
They are used to “control”, “defeat” and “show women their place”. It also stems from the patriarchal view that women are like property. It is the reason why rapes are so common in war-torn countries. Several silent wars are going on around us, but our privilege makes us unaware of those. Casteism is one such war.
The misogyny in association with caste privilege has caused an epidemic of caste-based sexual assaults at the hands of the Upper Caste of Dalit women. In the Hathras case, rape was just the mode of the crime, the motive of the crime was casteism. The motive can be any form of bigotry, and such crimes are nothing but abuse of power against the powerless. The root cause lies in what triggers a man.
The rape and murder of this girl may be a patriarchal abuse, but it was made possible only by the feeling of empowerment that everyone will be silent, ensured impunity and support from their community. Even though statistics are not a reflection of reality because of a grievously underreported number of cases, the NCRB data suggests that over four Dalit women are raped every day. Upper caste men have routinely abused, raped, and assaulted Dalit women to reinforce caste supremacy.
India is a place that has always practiced the Caste System. Manuvaad has prevailed here for centuries. The country has always been and still is exactly what people want it to be. It is misinformation, lack of media attention, and deliberate obfuscation of realities of the atrocities against Dalits and other marginalized communities, which make it hard for people in 2020 to accept the fact that Caste Atrocities still exist.
India has not changed suddenly; it has always been this way. Blaming a specific government for the rise in caste-based violence in UP and all of India as if it had begun yesterday or in the last 6 years is completely inappropriate.
However, the government, the police, and the CM of UP Mr Ajay Bisht should be held accountable for the lack of its administration in handling the Hathras case since Day 1 because they have crossed all the limits in this case. The delay in filing the FIR, hasty cremation of the body at night in violation of Hindu rituals, and now denying the incident of rape exposes the disgusting manner in which crime against women is being approached and dealt with by the UP police and the poor hold of the state’s CM on its law and order. The dereliction of duty of police and failure of governance in the state should be taken into account while delivering justice to the family of the victim.
Support those questioning the establishment in power. A Dalit woman raped because of caste discrimination that’s been practised in any area for long should be reported by the media. Fact-based coverage will always carry a bias of bitter truth and not reporting the same will deviate the people from the root cause of the issue. It is easy to say rape is rape, but one should also think about the people at the receiving end of such crimes. Unless one wants to live in denial and be part of only selective outrage, it is possible to raise your voice against women’s safety by mentioning the caste angle as well.