Trigger Warning: Rape, Caste-based violence
With almost 87 cases of rape reported daily and several more going unreported, sexual violence in India is a daily affair. The roots of a crime as heinous and violent as rape can be traced to the perceived status of women as inferior and sex objects, courtesy patriarchal norms that have been in place for thousands of years.
During the Partition holocaust, rape was used as a political tool by the warring communities to establish their dominance over the other’s women – in a bid to desecrate the “honour” of the communities. However, it wasn’t the first time women were attacked for their identity. Since the days of medieval conquests, women were regarded as property to be won over by the victor.
This gendered pattern of violence against women has empowered and enabled institutions of power – both political and financial, to be dominated by men. Anatomical differences between men and women have been used to justify the exclusion of women from all spaces and have been accepted too, by a large section of the citizenry. For example, despite the constitution envisaging equal treatment to both men and women, no woman yet has been the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In such a scenario, rape has to be seen as emblematic of the larger issue of power imbalance in society.
Rape is an act of violence, committed from a position of power targeted systemically against women and more so, against women who belong to marginalized communities. Contrary to populist discourse, rape is not committed because of “sexual urges”, “natural drives” or any such hokum.
It is a conscious act, committed with planning and precision to inflict pain onto the victim because of power imbalance that exists between them. Rapists indulge in this act because they can – the perceived sense of sheer impunity that stems from their privilege.
To cite a popular analogy, look at the movie “Thappad” released earlier this year. The husband, in frustration over not getting his desired promotion, slaps his wife over a minor dispute. As it is later shown in the movie, his anger was directed at his supervisors but due to his lack of power in the corporate structure where he worked, he couldn’t redress his grievances let alone hit his boss.
With his wife, he assumed that he was more powerful and slapped her because he could – something eerily similar to all cases of domestic violence and abuse.
The wife, rightly furious, leaves her husband. However, in a particular sub-plot, it is portrayed how the domestic help employed at the house also faces a much more violent brunt of abuse but is unable to do anything about it, due to her marginalized status.
As such, while all women do face the wrath of patriarchal culture and norms, some women face it more than the others. Take a look at the issue of rapes of Dalit women from the perspective of power imbalance. In a caste-ridden society, where Dalits have been marginalized historically, socially and politically, the rape of Dalit women is reflective of the systemic violence against a particular community.
In the larger structure of power, they face the brunt of crimes committed from a position of power. A particular person from the community gaining affluence does not change that. In the recent case of the alleged gang-rape of a 19-year-old girl, belonging to the Valmiki community, at Hathras, the perpetrators committed the crime because they could – the sense of impunity arising from the privilege, provided both by their gender as well as caste.
Bell Hooks in her book Feminism: From the margin to the center explains how coloured women in the USA face the wrath of violence greater than their white counterparts. A system of double exploitation – at the hands of patriarchy as well as because of their race is prevalent. Likewise, in India, replacing coloured with Dalit and race with caste, it is easily deducible how sex crimes against women of marginalized communities are exacerbated by their caste.
In an age when anti-reservation rhetoric has caught fire in the social media forums, a nuanced discussion on the maladies of caste and its solution needs to take the driver seat now. With a violent crime as rape affecting women of a certain community more than the others, it is imperative that we not only make efforts to level the power imbalance between men and women but also take concerted steps to eradicate caste-based discrimination from our society.
Whether the government steps up to the challenge is a question on which the jury is still out.