Haryana: Land, Caste, and Sexual Violence Against Dalit Girls and Women – A Report by WSS

July 27, 2014

The following is a chapter from the full report by Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS).

Click here for the full report [PDF, English] »

Haryana: A State in Transition

[The] extraordinary – and terrifying – explosion of sexual violence against Dalit girls in contemporary Haryana must be analysed against the backdrop of the complex changes in social relations across groups and communities in the wake of the neo-liberal economic boom of the last decade.

The traditional prosperity of the most dominant caste group – the Jats – is rooted in the ownership of land and control of agricultural production. This control has been corroded not only by the stagnation in the agriculture sector but also by the increasing class stratification among the various Jat sub-castes. The movement demanding job reservations for Jats is the direct outcome of Jat resentment against Dalits and other oppressed castes that are seen as “cornering” the benefits of state policies and constitutional provisions such as reservations. In many of our conversations with Jats, Dalits were sarcastically referred to as the pampered “jamais” (sons-in-law) of the government.

Caste violence and sexual violence against Dalit women have always been the modus operandi to beat down the Dalit community and keep them in their allotted place at the bottom of the caste ladder. An oft-quoted saying at Jat chaupals is: “A Jat who has not tasted his siri’s wife and daughter is not a true Jat.”

But where do women and Dalits stand in the bigger narrative of growth and development that is today flaunted by the state and extolled by the media?

In this section, we attempt to unpack the consequences of the economic transition for people at different points on the various axes of power.

The Political Economy of Land and the Agrarian Crisis in Haryana

Created in 1966 to accommodate the demands of the non-Sikh and non-Punjabi-speaking population of Punjab, Haryana was at the leading edge of the Green Revolution in the 1980s. Today, the state has emerged as a prime location for manufacturing industries, business process outsourcing and organised retail, and scores high on economic indicators such as per capita income, per capita investment, per capita plan expenditure and resource mobilisation, as well as on social indicators such as girls’ access to education, decline in family size and child mortality. Districts bordering Delhi (such as Ambala, Rohtak and Kurukshetra) score higher on socio-economic indicators than those bordering Rajasthan (such as Sirsa, Jind and Hisar).

At 24 percent of the population, Jats constitute the single largest caste group. Dalits are the next largest group at around 20 percent. The Jat population is more concentrated in the districts of Bhiwandi, Jind, Sonepat, Rohtak, Jhajjar and Hisar – constituting what is known as the Jat “heartland”. The social superiority of the Jats rests on their ownership and control of the major portion of land in the state, which, in turn, has allowed them to control the labour of those who are subordinate to them in the caste hierarchy. The British, too, contributed to the myth of Jat superiority by valorising them as a “martial race” and recruiting them in large numbers for active service during World War I. Jats are today at the pinnacle of practically every formal and informal institution in Haryana, which has never had a non-Jat Chief Minister.

Although Haryana is still predominantly rural, the state is urbanising much faster than the rest of the country, with the urban population going up from less than 25 percent in 1991 to 29 percent in 2001 and nearly 35 percent in 2011. However, this shift is not so much the result of an internal economic transition as of an entrepreneurial partnership between politicians and real estate developers who were able to convert proximity to Delhi and the National Capital Region into a business opportunity. While real estate companies (led by DLF, India’s largest real estate firm) bought up huge tracts of agricultural land in the peri-urban belt, the Haryana government facilitated their operations by loosening up the legal framework to allow easy conversion of agricultural lands for non-agricultural uses, and allowing the entry of private firms into land development. Several cases now in the courts have exposed the way in which senior politicians have benefited from promoting this distorted model of “urban growth”.

Urbanisation has had a devastating impact on the rural economy of the state. For instance, in Gurgaon tehsil, as many as 35 villages have been incorporated in the Gurgaon Municipal Corporation. An estimated 48 percent of arable land has been converted to non-agricultural use. Vast tracts of land in the areas covered by the Gurgaon Master Plan (which incorporates Sohna and Manesar) have been purchased by private developers and are lying fallow.

Women across castes have been particularly and severely affected by the present crisis in agriculture. Women in peasant households have traditionally been visible and acknowledged as active cultivators in Haryana, and are the dominant workforce in animal husbandry, especially dairying. The severity of the current agrarian crisis leading to a steady decline in labour absorption since the 1990s, combined with limited avenues of non-farm employment, has led to an overall decline in women’s employment in Haryana in the last decade, for both Jats and other castes.

The Everyday Humiliations of Schooling

Vaish Primary School (established in 1920) is a government-aided school and gets a grant for free education to children from BPL families. These schools are not supposed to charge fees, since the government aid covers salaries, mid-day meals, books and uniforms for the children.

On entering the school, we were greeted suspiciously by the three young women teachers present and there was some uncertainty when we asked to see the principal. It was clear that these teachers did not lay much in store by the school or the children.

When mention was made of the incident of October 2013 they denied everything. According to them, one girl had not done any homework and so was scolded by the teacher, nothing more – a big fuss was created for no reason. “Children don’t know anything and their parents even less” was what they had to say.

We were told that the child had come back to the school – the parents had apologised and asked that the girl be taken back. A small girl was brought to us along with an older one and we were told that we could question her. The children seemed frightened and tongue-tied and we asked that they be excused.

We were told that the teacher responsible had left in order to do her B.Ed. The teachers were vociferous that they would never do such a thing as strip the children.

When we met with the two mothers who live in the neighbourhood, they did not want to tell us their names for fear that this would lead to further problems for their children in the school. Their husbands were daily-wage workers earning about Rs 5000 per month. They recalled that the children had come home on that particular day saying that the teacher had pulled down their underpants. According to a news report in the Tribune, they were forced to withdraw their complaint against the school by the Station House Officer (SHO) under threat of being arrested and jailed.

Local Dalit activists talked about the larger problem of corruption in the school system. Even though schools get government grants and money meant to cover expenses and grant stipends to the children from BPL families (Below Poverty Line), schools are known to charge fees and pocket the stipends.

As in other states, land-reform legislation enacted after Independence has had little impact on actual land ownership in Haryana. Jat landlords were able to use their political and social muscle to exploit legal loopholes and retain their huge landholdings. Ironically for measures that were designed to give land to the tiller, the implementation of land ceiling laws in Haryana resulted in the dispossession of Dalit tenants. Negligible proportions of surplus land have been made available for redistribution, but even these are denied through threats, litigation or simply by blocking physical access to the plot. Today, as much as 86 percent of arable land in the state is under Jat ownership, while Dalits – who constitute nearly 20 percent of the population – hold less than 2 percent of land.

Jats also control access to the common (shamilat) lands of the village, which are legally open for use by a member of any community: for grazing cattle, as a playground, for festivals and for defecation. There has been a steady appropriation of these common lands by the landowners, which is visible on the ground although invisible in official records. Fencing off of the shamilat land is a standard tactic resorted to by Jat-controlled panchayats, either as part of a social boycott or as a means to evict the entire Dalit community from a village. As described in an earlier section of this report, this issue is at the heart of the dispute between Jats and Dalits in Bhagana village.

Apart from khuli mazdoori (free, or unattached, labour), traditional forms of naukri (agricultural debt bondage) continue to exist in Haryana. Naukars are usually landless Dalit cultivators who have taken a cash loan from the landowner and are bonded to work for him until the loan is repaid. The usual interest rate for such loans is 2-3 percent per month, collected every six months. There is no written contract and the nature of the work is not defined. Since the advance amount has already been given – the naukar is forced to put his entire family to work for the landowner simply to keep up with the interest payments.

The wife and daughters of the naukar are expected to perform household chores for the landowner; some small in-kind payments may be made to them at random intervals, such as during festivals. This proprietary right over the self and self-hood of Dalits that traditionally meant the sexual exploitation of women by the big landlords continues to be manifest in the sexual assault of Dalit girls even if the edifice of the agrarian relations is changing rapidly. It is the increasing Dalit resistance and the ability of Dalits to step up the social and economic ladder – with or without reservation – that is incurring the wrath of the hitherto powerful sections.

Adverse Sex Ratios

Census data on sex ratios (presented in Appendix II) reflects the long history of the issue in Haryana: low sex ratios are prevalent across caste groups (albeit to a lesser extent in the case of Scheduled Castes) and thereby the overall population. This is the pattern as reflected in the more recent fall in child sex ratios.

Micro studies show that sex selection is happening among all castes if to different degrees. There has been only a very slight improvement in the sex ratios in the most recent 2011 Census for all groups in Haryana. Indeed, several micro-level studies show that Scheduled Caste populations in several Haryana districts have particularly skewed child sex ratios, caught as they are between poverty and a desire for upward mobility, resulting in the neglect of daughters and sex-selective abortions.

Jats, with the longest documented history of female infanticide, have been dealing with the shortage of marriageable women through practices such as regulating and maintaining “bachelor sons” within larger households, permitting marriages or alliances with women from so-called lower castes, and bringing in women from other states as “purchased brides”.

The presence of a large pool of unmarried men in Haryana is not a new phenomenon. However, the emergence of smaller nuclear (monogamous) families has increased the visibility of unmarried and often jobless young men in their twenties.

Although researchers remain cautious in drawing direct connections between falling sex ratios and increased violence, stories from the field suggest otherwise. A recent paper recounts some telling instances. A local woman NGO worker from Jind district told researchers that young, unemployed, unmarried men from villages boarded trains early in the morning to go to universities in the larger towns – not to study, but to escape from the oppressive family atmosphere where they were taunted for being “malang” (chronic bachelors). According to her, such men made a nuisance of themselves in colleges, bullying male students and harassing the women. However, the long-term impacts of adverse sex ratios on levels of violence in the caste-based patriarchal society of Haryana needs deeper study and analysis.

Education: Dalit Girls Pay a Higher Price

The explosion in educational institutions in Haryana in recent years – from schools to colleges and various professional institutes – cannot be missed by even a casual observer. Huge billboards advertising these establishments – ranging from the “Jat Education Society” and the “Gaur Brahmin School” to the more high-end “Sushant School of Urban Arts” – dot the highways even in the rural areas, pointing to huge compounds surrounding imposing and ornate buildings. Education is the major site of entrepreneurial investment in Haryana today. Haryana now has 622 AICTE-certified institutes of technical learning, apart from one central university, 10 state universities, 28 deemed and private universities, and one Regional Centre of IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University). Of the 10 state universities, six have been set up by prominent real estate firms such as Apeejay, Ansals, Gaur and Jindal.

The increase in enrolment at all levels of the education system – from primary and secondary schooling to colleges and professional institutes – began in the 1990s. Particularly noteworthy is the huge increase in enrolment among girls and women. The disparity in Gross Enrolment Ratios (GERs) of boys and girls (with girls usually lagging behind) is lower in Haryana than in the rest of the country. Moreover, proportionately, more children complete their secondary education in Haryana than the all-India average. The GERs for Dalits in Haryana are equally impressive. The proportion of Dalit girls enrolled in secondary and senior-secondary levels is higher than the all-India average, while Dalit boys lag behind. However, Dalit girls do not outnumber Dalit boys in higher education. Several studies have noted the extent to which young girls who complete high school go on to some kind of college or institute in states like Haryana, while their brothers discontinue their studies. Others have noted the extent to which first-generation learners from Dalit families are now accessing schooling and even some form of higher education (albeit in smaller numbers) in rural as well as urban Haryana, perhaps as a result of government schemes for educational support to BPL families.

However, several recent studies (including a recent review commissioned by the Government of India) have highlighted the fact that schools are a prime site for caste discrimination and caste violence against children.

This fact was once again brought home to us in the course of a recent visit to Rohtak to follow up on a news report [11] regarding a case of stripping of six minor students by a teacher in a private school in the Shorakothi area of the city. Two local Dalit activists in Rohtak who had been the source for the Tribune story facilitated our investigation of this incident.

Haryana has several schemes for girls from BPL families, including some that offer cash incentives to families with daughters so as to financially offset the expenditures in health, schooling, etc., which would otherwise be seen as a burden by the family. The first such scheme was a conditional cash transfer arrangement, “Apni Beti Apni Dhan” [12] designed with the explicit aim of curbing child marriage and encouraging schooling. The scheme transfers small sums of money (Rs 500) into a bank account at different stages, against the accomplishment of specific benchmarks, beginning with birth registration and immunisation, followed by schooling. The total amount of Rs 25,000 is paid to the family when the girl reaches the age of 18, provided she is not married.

More such schemes were launched in 2005, including “Ladli” that aimed at countering the decline in child sex ratios. Again, these schemes targeted BPL families and involved several conditionalities, including the passing of 10th class and being unmarried till 18. According to government figures, there were about 50,000 beneficiaries of the Ladli scheme in Haryana in 2007-08 which rose to over 1 lakh in 2009-10.

These schemes, as well as other educational support programmes, have added to the perception that Dalits – especially Dalit girls – are being pampered by the government.

A recent study [13] conducted by the International Council for Research on Women (ICRW) surveyed the beneficiaries of the “Apni Beti Apni Dhan” scheme. The survey finds the beneficiary girls doing better in school as compared to the girls who were not enrolled in the scheme. However, parents had mixed feelings about the value of sending their girls to school. On the one hand, they felt that education was a necessity today; many mothers were illiterate themselves and worked as labourers in the fields of the landowning Jats who were clearly economically better off; and Dalit families were happy to see their daughters going up to high school. But there was also a general anxiety which was frequently expressed as “mahaul kharab ho gaya hai’, meaning that times had changed for the worse, because of new influences such as TV and mobile phones; they were also worried about co-education.

Parents were particularly anxious and fearful of the safety of their daughters. This fear of sexual violence was shared by both Dalit and Jat families, but Jats were in a better position to “protect” their daughters, especially if they had to travel some distance to school or college, while the poor families felt unable to do so. Even everyday needs such as answering the call of nature could expose girls to sexual violence, and boys of different castes appeared to be aware of this.

In a meeting of the WSS team with around 70 students of Kurukshetra University, girls spoke of their desperate struggle against parental authority and conventional expectations, in order to pursue a college education. The young people told us that the older generation of Jats feared that girls who go to college would get involved with and married to boys from other castes, especially Dalits. One young man, a Rajput by caste said that when one such marriage takes place, the whole village of the girl gets boycotted by other prospective grooms. This is why khap panchayats put restrictions on the mobility and education of girls. The students also talked about how boys harass the girls and make it difficult for them to get to college by taking over buses going from the villages to the university, and forcing the driver to leave before the girls get on board. A student in the women’s studies course said that while the parents realised that education was an asset equivalent to property, they hesitated to send girls out to study because of their fears of inter-caste marriages.

A law student said that poor parents have a genuine problem since they can’t give both dowry and education fees. On the other hand, educated brides are desired – in fact, families now specify that the girl should have had a private school education.

Bitter Memories of School Days

Our conversations with Dalit activists from the Ambedkar Students’ Union highlighted the daily reality of caste oppression in rural Haryana. One young man talked about his experiences in the Daya village school. He has bitter memories of his school days, especially of being punished by his teacher when he topped an English test. It was simply because he, a Chamar, had the audacity to do better than the Jat boys.

He recalled that Dalit children were forced to clean the principal’s room and their own classrooms even though there were three peons who were supposed to do this work. His science teacher would call out his name and ask him to do the cleaning. If his friends tried to help, the teacher would say, “Tera kaam nahi hai, woh hi karega.” (It’s not your job, he has to do it. ) One day, unable to bear this daily humiliation, he collected the garbage and threw it in front of the principal’s room. He also threatened to beat up the teacher. This show of anger brought an end to the harassment. But he continued to face discrimination even after leaving school and going on to study textile engineering and natural medicine in Jodhpur and Delhi. He says his classmates would refuse to socialise with him on the plea that their teacher had told them to keep away from Chamars. He confronted the teacher and filed a complaint – again, his ability to confront his harassers made them leave him alone. Today, he has a naturopathy clinic but says that the Jats resent his success and continue to harass him. He was recently called before the panchayat and was made to apologise for daring to wear a coat.

Another activist shared how a handful of Dalit students in a class in Maharshi Dayanand University in Rohtak were systematically victimised by the teachers who did not bother to hide their caste biases. For instance, even though all the Dalit students were eligible to get a government stipend, they never managed to avail of this benefit because the application forms were never given out on time. This activist’s determined pursuit of cases of violence against Dalits and the invocation of the PoA Act has made him a target of the government. The Senior SP of Hisar has been quoted in local newspapers as having accused him of “inciting caste hatred”. The Haryana Chief Minister has stated in public that he is a threat to the traditional amity between Jats and Dalits: “Tera to kaam hi hai yahan ka bhaichara bigadna, tere se sakhti se pesh aayenge.” (“All you do is to destroy the spirit of brotherhood here, we will deal sternly with you.”)

Policing Caste and Gender Boundaries in a Changing World: Khap Panchayats

The khap panchayats are the visible face of institutionalised Jat power and patriarchy in Haryana. These traditional bodies of the landowning Jat community claim control over large clusters of Jat-dominated villages, all the inhabitants of which are deemed to be siblings even if they are not related by blood. They also keeping exploitative relations of caste and labour intact. Although the khap is a Jat institution, it enjoys the support of all dominant caste groups, which are willing to bury social and political differences in the interests of Jat solidarity against assertions by Dalits and other claimants to political space.

Considerable feminist attention has already been devoted to the maintenance of caste endogamy among the Jats through the ban on inter-caste marriages enforced and policed by the khap panchayats. This policing of marriage and sexuality is directly linked to the fear of loss of control over land in a society where ownership and control over land is the instrument for maintenance of both class and caste segregation.

Jat masculinity is clearly in crisis today. Rapid urbanisation and economic growth in traditional khap strongholds in Haryana has created sharp social and economic contradictions. On the one hand, the tradition of upper-caste women marrying into families of a higher social class has resulted in a surplus of brides at the top of the social order and a pronounced deficit further down. On the other, urbanisation, access to education and exposure to a wider world through the media has generated new aspirations in young women who are increasingly reluctant to confine themselves to the traditional female domains of kitchens and cattle-sheds. Given the diminishing pool of marriageable girls in the Jat community, these assertions of independence have generated a high level of anxiety within families and have led to the tightening of patriarchal controls on women’s sexuality. The perceived need to control daughters has revalidated the traditional khap function of ensuring caste endogamy and clan exogamy.

The same khap panchayats who police inter-caste marriages also play a key role in protecting the accused in cases of violence against Dalit girls. Caste brotherhood is on open display as upper-caste men stand together against Dalit families who are seeking justice. The role of the district administration and state level political institutions, where the Jats are more than well represented, reflect the same caste solidarity.

Dalit Mobilisation in Haryana: History and Challenges

Unlike in other North Indian states, there have been few social reform movements in Haryana. The exception was the Arya Samaj, which found popularity since it advocated the discarding of brahmanical ceremonies, thus further bolstering Jat dominance and relegating the small population of Haryanvi Brahmins to the sidelines. Haryana also does not have a substantial presence of other traditional upper castes like the Rajputs, Kayasthas and Banias. Despite the substantial population of oppressed castes, a political movement for unification did not develop and sub-castes remained fragmented, even in the post-Mandal period.

The historical ambiguities in the position of Jats in the chaturvarna hierarchy have once again become a political issue, with the Jats now shifting from their earlier claims of being a sub-caste of the Kshatriyas, to arguing that they are part of the Backward Classes.

Anti-caste organisations have become visible comparatively recently, but their direct political role is still limited. On the other hand, the Jat khaps are highly organised and structured, and exercise tremendous social and political influence and power. Thus, even though the Dalit population is higher (19.7 percent) in Haryana than the national average (16.2 percent) , this has not translated into political advantage.

In the mid-1980s, AIDWA started working in Haryana on issues of caste domination and women’s oppression. In the late 1980s, some radical left student and cultural organisations also began mobilising Dalits and women. It was only around 5 years ago that a few NGOs began to work with Dalits in Haryana. The growing presence, visibility and voice of these democratic and anti-caste mobilisations today hold the promise of building solidarity with and strengthening the nascent movements of resistance to caste and sexual violence.

In the course of this study, we were able to meet and connect with several young activists – students, lawyers, doctors, government functionaries; they impressed and humbled us with their political convictions and their commitment to struggles for justice despite enormous personal difficulties.

Conclusions and Reflections

This report provides evidence of the interlinked operation of caste, patriarchy and neo-liberal policies, each of them steeped in violence. The economic and cultural transformation triggered by the neo-liberal boom in Haryana has created new avenues for violence against Dalit women, located as they are at the confluence of multiple systems of marginalisation and oppression.

Haryana is no different from other parts of India in being home to a “rape culture” perpetuated through the use of casteist and misogynistic language; the dehumanisation and objectification of Dalit women’s bodies; the glamorisation of violence and macho masculinity; and the justification of caste, class and gender hierarchies as right, proper and necessary for the preservation of order and stability.

The early 1990s saw a major policy shift away from agriculture, towards construction and real-estate. Land legislations were loosened and a single-window system put in place to allow agricultural land to be used for non-agricultural purposes. Jat landowners benefited from land sales to corporates and private developers, fuelling a cash boom. Increased consumption by the landed classes, was paralleled by rapid immiserisation of the land-poor and landless groups, primarily Dalits.

The failure of land reforms in the state, a consequence of the overwhelming hold of Jats over political power, has served to further consolidate their economic and social dominance. As the owners of more than 80 percent of all land in the state, the Jats are the only caste group to have cornered the benefits of both, the Green Revolution of the 1970s and the current phase of urbanisation/ industrialisation. However, these benefits have not percolated to those at the bottom of the Jat hierarchy, many of whom remain landless, and continue to work under exploitative conditions.

Although they are now demanding recognition as a Backward Caste to avail of the benefits reserved for OBCs, Jats are at the pinnacle of the caste hierarchy in Haryana. Unlike in other states, where a group of dominant castes vie for control over political and economic power, Jats here dominate and control all formal and informal institutions, and have therefore been able to exercise their caste power with impunity.

The Jats, like landowning castes in other parts of the country, have traditionally exercised control over the bodies, labour, possessions and choices of their Dalit labourers. The sexual exploitation of Dalit women and girls is still regarded by the Jat men as a privilege they can easily exercise. Apart from near-total ownership of productive lands, Jat dominance is expressed through control over the village commons such as grazing lands, wastelands used for defecation and burial of dead animals, sacred groves, scrublands and forests, and lands developed with public funds such as playgrounds and chaupals (used for community meetings). The lack of independent access to resources has led Dalits to be economically dependent on Jat landowners. Economic and social boycotts are therefore being increasingly used against Dalits who assert their rights to common land, causing greater hardship to the community.

It is from this unlikely space, characterised by the prevalence of traditional forms of economic, social and cultural exploitation, that a small but stubbornly persistent opposition to this way of life is making its voice heard, demanding a response not only from the state machinery but also from women’s movements and all those who claim to stand for democratic values and human rights.

We have focused on only a few of the numerous cases brought to the fore by these voices. In all these incidents, Dalit girls and their families – most of whom are landless agricultural labourers or artisans who are economically dependent on their aggressors – have shown incredible courage and determination in resisting intimidation and threats to pursue their struggle for justice.

The impact of these cases reinforces existing hierarchies of power and powerlessness. In each case that we have documented, there is a consistent pattern of consequences that spread outward from each individual girl to impact the lives of her parents and siblings, her extended family and then the entire community:

• The survivor herself. The assault is usually only the beginning of her ordeal. At every step of the legal process, from recording a statement to undergoing a medical examination, she is forced to relive her trauma and humiliation. She is treated as an offender rather than as a victim. Her caste status is continually highlighted and used to question the veracity of the complaint. She does not receive any kind of medical or psycho-social support to help her heal and return to some degree of normalcy in her life. Her education is interrupted, possibly permanently. Her entitlement to compensation and rehabilitation under law are withheld, or given so late and so grudgingly that the intention is nullified. She is forced to live in fear, confronted as she is by her aggressors and their supporters at every turn.

• The parents. Apart from the shock, trauma and pain of seeing their child suffer, they are also humiliated at every step of the way if they decide to speak up and seek justice. Apart from physical violence and intimidation, they come under both economic and social pressure from dominant castes, often losing their livelihoods. Notions of family and community “honour” and prestige are also invoked by their own families and community to pressurise them into backing off from demanding justice and making the details of the case public. Mothers, in particular, are deeply affected, tormented by concerns about the future and the diminishing chances of a return to “normal” life for the daughter. In more than one of the cases we have documented, the mother has been seriously emotionally scarred in the long term.

• The siblings. Apart from being traumatised by the ordeal of their sister, the siblings are also fearful of their own safety. The girls are usually withdrawn from school because of the fear of taunts or physical attacks in school. The boys, too, face taunts and attacks from their classmates and teachers, and drop out if they are unable to cope.

• The family. In cases where the aggressors belong to a powerful family, they are able to push the survivor and her family out of the village, isolating them from the rest of the community and forcing them to struggle to survive in some new and unfamiliar place. The meagre assets left behind by the family are then appropriated or destroyed by the aggressors and their supporters in order to ensure that they do not return. The family is reduced to using the money they have received as compensation for their daily survival.

• Young Dalit boys. As highlighted in earlier sections of this report, the standard official response to a report of a Dalit girl having been abducted is to dismiss it as a case of elopement. If Jat boys are named by the family or by witnesses, the response is to arrest some Dalit boys from the girl’s community on the basis of concocted witness statements accusing them of being seen with the girl just before she disappeared. In most cases, the boys are subjected to beatings or worse in order to force them to sign confessions. They also suffer by having their education disrupted – exams are missed, and they also find that they are not able to go back to their colleges because of the “offender” label.

• The community. In cases where the Dalit community is organised or where political activists are able to mobilise support for the girl and her family, the entire community may face violence and various forms of social boycott.

This report is a testimony to the tenacity of the survivors in their struggles against overwhelming odds. We found that these pressures, intended to break their resistance, are actually helping to consolidate the solidarity among survivors, their families and Dalit activists.

Resistance to caste oppression and caste violence is increasingly visible at many levels across the state, as young people from Dalit communities begin to assert their rights to education and express their aspirations for a dignified life. On the one hand, the growing visibility and confidence of these young people, especially Dalit girls, has fuelled resentments and stoked various conspiracy theories and rumours that are used to justify false cases or even murderous assaults against Dalit boys who are considered “over-smart” or too assertive; on the other hand, these acts, such as instances of sexual violence against girls, are no longer taken silently by Dalit families. Each FIR registered in these cases represents a significant act of resistance in the face of generations of caste oppression.

Our engagement with these survivors and their families has opened up many new questions for WSS. What can we do to expose and challenge these institutionalised mechanisms of patriarchal dominance and control? Those who are struggling on the ground are well aware that resisting the caste system and working towards its annihilation necessitates going beyond protests against caste atrocities. The myriad ways in which caste is tied up to marriage, family and property, and the cultural and social tyranny it brings in its wake are compounded today by the deepening social and economic inequalities. This complex dynamic cannot be tackled without the forging of a common front and concerted action by all democratic groups and social movements.

Violence against Dalit women and girls in Haryana has a unique face, but equally, Haryana is not unique in its brutality towards women. As we close this report, the country is once again the focus of international condemnation for the rape and killing of two minor cousin sisters in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, whose bodies were found strung up on a tree near their home. There is a depressing familiarity to the state’s response. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh claimed that his government was being unfairly targeted even though such incidents are not rare; some of his party colleagues went a step further and claimed that violence against women is a “matter of mindsets” and can never be completely eliminated. Our newly elected Prime Minister has so far maintained a studied silence on the issue, despite the fact that an end to attacks on women was one of the loudest slogans of his election campaign.

News has also just come in of the eviction of the Bhagana protestors, along with other groups camping at Jantar Mantar, the only space left in the national capital where citizens can gather for peaceful democratic protests. Although ostensibly done because of “security concerns” during the upcoming Parliament session, this move is rightly being read as a clear signal of the lengths to which the new government is prepared to go to project an investor-friendly image of the country.

The process of preparing this report has made us even more sharply aware of the need to take our analysis of these dynamics to a deeper level in our effort to stand in solidarity with these struggles on the ground. We do not see this report as an end, but as a means to an end: that of breaking the silence and ripping the veils that shroud the issue of sexual violence against Dalit girls and women. It is a starting point for our own effort to expand our struggle against violence and to build connections between WSS and other platforms. It is a means to inform and seek support in fighting and ending the casteist discrimination and oppression that infests every aspect of our society, yet remains invisible precisely because it is so pervasive.

Notes

[11] The Tribune, Chandigarh, 28 October 2013

[12] Our Daughter is Our Wealth

[13] International Centre for Research on Women. 2014. “Qualitative Case Study: Recent Trends in Gender, Education and Marriage of Girls in Haryana”. ICRW, New Delhi, 2014.

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Haryana: Land, Caste, and Sexual Violence Against Dalit Girls and Women – A Report by WSS”

  1. Rakesh Ranjan Says:
    August 26th, 2014 at 03:25

    ” Jats are today at the pinnacle of practically every formal and informal institution in Haryana, which has never had a non-Jat Chief Minister”.

    Was Bhajanlal, a long serving chief minister, now dead, a Jat?

  2. Sumit Noonia Says:
    November 17th, 2018 at 02:15

    This is for the first time I have read a report which unveils the reality of caste discrimination and all its related aspects in the society at the grassroot level(that too in a common man language and experiences). It contained all that, what I’ve ever thought and learned from my own experiences and discussion on various platforms. I really appreciate thi work.

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