This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Abha Thapliyal. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘Justice Is Very Rare For Dalit Women Because People Won’t Talk About Caste’

More from Abha Thapliyal

Trigger warning: Mentions of gang rape, caste-based atrocities

It’s been a year since the Hathras case, and clearly, life moves on. Celebrity kids are arrested on cruises, reality television thrives, cryptocurrency blooms, social media outages happen and pollution levels skyrocket.

A year ago, in the Chandra region of the Hathras district, in western Uttar Pradesh, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was gang-raped and murdered by four upper-caste men. Now, her brother testifies at Court and is cross-examined for five hours, guarded by the CRPF while buying groceries for the family, logging his entry and exit into a meticulous register and passing metal detectors and CCTV cameras in his own home. Their family lawyer receives regular death threats.

It’s been a year since the Hathras case. Photo: @scribe_it/ Twitter

The defence claims that this is not about caste and that there was no rape.

It was an affair that went awry and is a case of honour-killing. With one simple yet diabolical strategy, a minority woman is ‘otherised’ and a rape victim is ‘disappeared’. Never mind that while Dalit women make up 16% of Indian’s female population, 10 Dalit women are raped every day. (NCB Report 2020)

Divya Srinivasan, a women’s rights lawyer based in Delhi and the South Asia consultant for Equality Now, was behind the campaign in July that raised awareness about Dalit women’s rights online. She tells me how rape is often weaponised as a tool of caste oppression.

“In a lot of caste-based gender violence cases, we see gang rapes or gang rapes with murder where members of the dominant caste act in concert to brutalise the victim. These offenders, they commit the crime with total impunity,” she says.

Why, I ask. Why do these men think they can get away with it?

“Because they can,” she says. “The police will refuse to register the FIR; they won’t investigate the crime; if they do, they won’t see it as a caste-based issue or as clear-cut violence against women; they’ll decline from taking any action against the criminals. Even if the police actually does their job, victims are coerced into taking back complaints and the case is declared false. You have to understand the pressure these families are under to stay silent.”

What about the cases that do make it to Court?

“Well, the conviction rate is barely 32%. Justice is very rare for Dalit women. We’re talking about exceptional cases when there is a lot of media attention and public outcry. Then maybe the Court might take it seriously and actually deliver a guilty verdict.” 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

I’m struggling to comprehend the epic failure of the system to protect Dalit women and I ask Divya why this system persists.

It’s caste-hierarchy,” she explains. “It’s all about caste-based politics and power. Then there are basic barriers to accessing justice for the victims, from reporting the crime to the police, to undergoing examination by the medical officer, to getting a good lawyer- I mean we already have an SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. What is absolutely appalling is that none of these cases is actually registered under the Act.”

hathras protest
A photo from the Hathras protest.

That seems strange.

If we have a law that was created specifically to address caste-based crimes, why are we not using it?

“Because that would mean talking about caste. People don’t want to talk about caste because then they would have to admit that they’re part of the problem. The truth is that casteism is endemic in India and it will not be abolished until we start a conversation about it,” she explains.

That conversation must clearly centre around giving Dalit women a safe space to collectively raise their voices. Divya agrees with me. “Representation of Dalit women is key to bringing forward their issues, protecting their rights and guaranteeing their safety against sexual violence,” she says.

The report is an eye-opener, especially for upper-class, privileged and educated women such as myself who call themselves intersectional feminists yet remain woefully ignorant about the existential struggle of marginalised, economically backward and impoverished women.

The report is a searing indictment on the current status of Dalit women in society. It makes key recommendations to the central and state governments to end caste-based sexual violence against women while laying out a plan for the conceptualisation, implementation and execution of a policy framework that will empower Dalit women. There has been no official response from the government.

I had the honour of talking to one of the writers of the report, Manjula Pradeep, a Dalit rights activist who has been doing advocacy work since the 90s and is the national convenor of the National Council of Women Leaders (NCWL). When I ask her how she became a Dalit rights activist, she tells me when one is born into a community that is discriminated against due to its social identity, one has a way of becoming a champion for its rights.

Image of Deepa Mohanan who's on a hunger strike against casteism in Kerala
Deepa Mohanan was recently on a hunger strike against casteism in academia in Kerala.

“I grew up with an acute awareness of the discrimination, oppression and violence. As a young activist when I went out into the field, I saw how Dalit women had zero visibility and the most important goal was getting them representation.

I saw cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, the lack of access to basic amenities, the exclusionary and isolationist customs and rituals.

Back in 1997, I did my first protest for the agricultural labourers in a small town in Padra, Gujarat. We helped them form a union, we informed them about their rights and we took out a rally. We were able to achieve minimum wages for agricultural labourers in 60 villages,” she says.

I am keen to analyse the report from a layman’s point of view so I ask her what is the essence of the report. She takes a deep breath and says, “We are trying to bring the issue of sexual violence against Dalit women and girls to the fore. That was the intent behind it. The recommendations list out ways to recognise Dalit women as human beings and how we can protect Dalit girls and women. There isn’t enough research done on this so there is no real data available for us.

The report urges the government to see Dalit women as a separate social group that has very distinct rights. We want them to be able to reach out to the police, to lawyers, to women’s rights commissions and to human rights commissions. We want women prosecutors to be appointed and women police officers to conduct the criminal investigation. We want one-stop rape crisis centres to function effectively.

We want atrocity-prone areas to be mapped out and special courts and fast-track courts to be set up as per the Prevention of Atrocities Act. More importantly, we are trying to provide immediate relief and rehabilitation for survivors, for example, trauma counselling.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

I’m naïve enough to think that the government will respond to the report and I ask Manjula why it hasn’t already done so. Surely when the civil society has outlined a plan of action in minute detail, the government should have no problem whatsoever in being proactive and following through.

With practised patience, she disabuses me of this notion. “The government has never cared about Dalit women’s rights. If they’ve ever taken notice, it is because one case is highlighted and followed up diligently. Our criminal justice system is primarily patriarchal and casteist. When you look at the people at the top, in key decision-making roles, they are all men from the dominant caste so they’re basically part of the problem,” she explains.

This inevitably brings us to high-profile cases like Nirbhaya and the necessary legal reform that followed in 2013. Interestingly, she points out, even now, the government has not introduced any such new policy for Dalit women.
At the UN, Manjula has been actively working for inclusion of caste within the UN agenda similar to racism. But from past experience, she tells me that when caste is raised as an issue at the international level, there is always vicious backlash at the national level.

On a more positive note, Manjula declares that she is optimistic that local activists, advocates and change-makers will continue to agitate on behalf of Dalit women, at the grassroots level, national level and the global level, whether the government is willing to accept it or not.

ALWAR, RAJASTHAN, ALWAR, RAJASTHAN, INDIA – 2016/05/15: Rehabilitated manual scavenger, Maya Sangeliya, 45, looks on inside her house. Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

“In our High Courts, only 10% of all judges are women. At the Supreme Court, the number goes down to 4 out of 33. Do you know how many judges are Dalit women? Three. Representation of minority groups, marginalised women and especially Dalit women has to be our priority right now.”

There is a ray of hope.

More women journalists are bravely leading the charge on covering violence against Dalit women, going out into the field, reporting from the scene of the crime, interviewing victims’ families, putting the spotlight on the prosecution while giving the third-degree to the defence, calling out political rhetoric and highlighting the bias, prejudice and hate that runs rampant in our communities.

Nidhi Suresh from Newslaundry, for example, continues to report on the Hathras case, with frequent updates and poignant pieces that bring ground reality into stark relief for a public that is easily diverted and a mainstream media that is happy to divert it.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

If you want to celebrate the UN’s 16 days of activism this year, you could wear orange and tweet a picture of yourself with the hashtag #EndGBV. Or you could consider how we Indians like to romanticise casteism: a picture of a rural woman in Rajasthan recently went viral on Twitter.

The woman was dressed in the traditional ghagra-choli, her wrists adorned with white bangles, carrying on her head what seemed like dozens of earthen pots stacked one on top of another, slowly making her way across the desert while the shadow of a camel fell across the sand. Beautiful, no?

“Padharo Mhare Desh,” the tweet said. Come to my country. “Adbhut India. Hamari Sabhyata!,” someone said. Unique India. This is our Indian culture!

Then a young man retweeted the tweet with a polemic on the lines of: “I grew up in a Dalit community in Rajasthan. The villagers wouldn’t let us drink from the local well so my mother had to walk hundreds of miles every day to collect water. I saw her carrying water like this woman a million times. Please. This is not culture. This is poverty.”

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
You must be to comment.

More from Abha Thapliyal

Similar Posts

By Priyanka

By Wajiha Zaidi

By Krishna Kant Tripathi

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        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.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        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.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        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.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below