For a rape ‘caste’ (does) matter in India

January 26, 2013

Suraj Yengde

gal_63991.jpg

“Woman will not mind the age of the person if she wants to have sex with him.”
“She only loves ornaments, money and clothes, she is full of sexual desires, betrayer and egoistic.” [2]

These are the famous ciphers encoded in the sacred text ‘Manusmriti’ from Hindu alias Brahminical Holy book of governance that held sway over lives of millions of Indians for a considerable time for the past 2000 years.

Introduction
Recent protests across the capital and elsewhere could mean the explosion of gender consciousness in the Indian society which is a ‘society of paradoxes’. Strikes and Dharnas are signs of successful democracy; these measures are adopted quite often by the unprivileged citizens who have faced violence and discrimination in the world’s largest democracy. Apart from women activists, young school-going girls along with their parents, human rights activists, and political parties took the floor to express solidarity towards the condition of women in India. Feminists in India always shine in nationwide protests while representing the helpless and harassed women in metros. The issue of working women facing sexual violence in their offices is often reported and gets nationwide media attention. But this time, the reporting was quite effective; it not only united women in one thread all across India but also with organisations overseas. [3] International media reported India’s piteous situation for weeks interviewing the young protestors who came to voice their grievances. Law makers in the parliament and elsewhere made bold proclamations. Moreover, a Congress Member of the Parliament and the son of the President of the Republic received was berated by the media after his “dented and painted” remarks. Some members from the opposition party in the house reclaimed their understanding towards rape, by asking girls to abandon wearing skirts and following the strict routine in keeping with the tradition. Some right wing ideologues like Mohan Bhagwat, head of controversial Hindu fundamentalist organization RSS (Rashtriya Swaysevak Sangh) got into the thread of controversy by relating the incident to ‘India’ and not ‘Bharat’, a mythical entity which their ideologues align with. Some religious organisations demanded the cessation of co-education [4] to avoid the unwarranted consequences. Some Hindu gurus like Asaram [5] blamed the girl, saying they are equally responsible for an incident like the rape, some gurus turned politicians like Baba Ramdev, along with his followers, reached Delhi for protest. Opposition in the lower and the upper house condemned the violence and demanded strict action against the accused. Actress turned politician Jaya Bacchan protested her appeal to the Honourable chairman of the house by shedding tears in the upper house of parliament. Bollywood celebrities showed their solidarity or expressed their concern by holding ‘Bollywood’ protest. From local to global, the Delhi rape victims received sympathy of the society.

The following article will provide a critique of the recent Delhi rape protests, explaining the role of participants and their selfish interests in the current glamour of social enlightenment. It will highlight the stand of religious leaders on rape and their ideologies, the failure of mainstream society to address the situation of women rights of the unprivileged section and the international lobbying agencies’ role in protecting women’s rights in India. It will provide data on the on-going problems of the Dalit women and will critique the role of different sections of the society, e.g. Bollywood, biased outlook on this issue.

Glamour
It is hard to not see that the participants in the recent protest had vested interests in grabbing the attention of the public. Political parties took the day off by taking part in talk shows and visiting the rape victim families. Religious leaders propagated their conservatism. Bollywood also enhanced their popularity with stunts exhibiting their protest with black ribbons and placards. Among the several million participants around the country, the young students were the only innocent participants who marched in frustration blaming the government. Sadly this group of protestors were misled by the leaders for their personal gains.

Presence of religious heads
Question arises as to why the religious leaders tried to console the victim’s family by participating in protest or giving statements in solidarity? Are these Hindu leaders not educated enough to read their religious texts that codified laws for centuries which governed India? One such reference goes to Manusmriti, Chapter IX verse 5 reads, “Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling they may appear; for, if they are not guarded, they will bring sorrow on two families.” [6] Chapter IX verse 18 says, “As a falsification is impure, similarly women are impure. This means women have no right of reading, teaching or reciting verses.” Chapter 36 verse 37 says “women are way to hell” these and many other religious codes denote the status of women in Hindu religion. Furthermore, Ramcharit Manas recommends, “Animal, illiterate, shudra and women needs to be beaten like a drum.”

Islam too is not free of the fault of demeaning the status of women, and in particular when it comes to the sub-continent it takes the shape of rigidity to prove its similarities with fellow religions. No religion providing equal status to women is propagated due to the existence of patriarch-dominated society. In spite of sporadic respect being granted to women in the holy texts, ‘noble’ leaders undermined women’s position in society and elsewhere. Islamic organisations Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and other like-minded organizations recommended the continuance of old style order of society with dominance of males over females.

Hence, when it comes to the practice of their religion and societal order, the religious leaders cannot claim any right to protest on the situation of rape witnessed by Delhi. When in fact the massive deflation of reported and unreported cases of rape took place under their valid authority in various demographic areas. Therefore, when they claim to be supporters of equality for women and protection of their rights they should first express an apology to the public for the past violence against women by the same religious tag which history has witnessed in the name of religious wars and religious protection movement.

Varying degree of protests from political figures, religious leaders, social activists, women organisations and students gave a signal to the potential perpetrators of similar crimes. This protest has undoubtedly gained a wide outreach all over. Apart from this incident of rape, there still lies a massive vulnerable community in Indian society which the protestors are unaware of: the piteous and defenseless Dalit women. This group is the most discriminated section in the world that faces tripartite discrimination. Ruth Manorma argues, “Dalit women in India are the Dalits among Dalits and suffer from three-fold oppression — on account of gender as a result of patriarchy, as a member of ‘the untouchable’ castes, and as a class — as they hail from the poorest and most marginalised communities.” [7] The discrimination against Dalit women in particular gets minimum attention for the unrivalled unfortunate conditions imposed on them by the society in general and social-cultural norms in particular.

Plight of Dalit women
While the protest around Delhi was going on, there was a pregnant Dalit woman who was gang raped in Bhopal; another Dalit rape victim was killed by the rapist in the broad day light in Kanpur; yet another Dalit girl committed suicide in Punjab. Recently, in the month of October 2012, around 19 Dalit women have been raped in Haryana. But the country and media had no coverage to heat up the argument in country. Rape of Dalit women is not new to the country; various reports of the National as well as International agencies have recorded the plight of Dalit women in the present day India. Various agencies such as United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, UN women, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Human Rights Council, UN mandate on Racism, UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Special Rapporteurs report on discrimination based on work and descent, Human Rights Watch, ACJP, International Dalit Solidarity Network, Dalit Solidarity Networks, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, UK, NACDOR, etc. have highlighted the condition of Dalit women in their reports.

Most rape cases happen in villages, and almost 80% of these rapes are against Dalit women. Recently published documentary by the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the importance of human rights education depicts the testimony of a young school-going Dalit girl in Tamil Nadu where she lives in the fear of violence, stigmatized as a Dalit. Sexual abuse and violence against Dalit women starts in early childhood, she is already made aware of her caste, and since then starts her humiliating journey of life– retrospectively for which she has to accept the blame of her parents being born into the cursed society. No Dalit girl child can easily access the social space of society, neither can she fetch the water [8] from the general tap in most cases because of her caste, she cannot attend the school, cannot study for long hours as she has to work part time assisting her parents. She is discriminated for her caste on every occasion except, when it comes to forcing her for free sex and cheap labour. There is no caste line bothering the rapists to even think for a moment before taking the heinous step of raping some minor Dalit girl– since she is the easy catch. Even before attaining puberty she is often sexually abused and raped, while such incidents remain unreported.

All her life she is treated as a sex slave which is quite evident with the existence of Devadasi system wherein she is appointed to act as a sex partner for the pervert and sex maniac priests of temples.

One may argue that, when it is rape it is absurd to discriminate the victim on the caste or religious lines. This is in fact true, because rape affects the whole ‘women’ community. But it is evident that most rapes since time immemorial are only against a particular section of society which sadly is under reported and no protestor ever has marched to the capital in protest of a rape against Dalit women with the same affection. To prove my contention I give details of rapes in various parts of India and not too far back in time but in a very recent time span of 2-4 months: rapes in Haryana where a girl was raped brutally and in the humiliation her father committed suicide, was there any national protest? Rape in Maharashtra of a mother and her teenage daughter, was there any national protest? Sexual assault in Satara by upper caste males of a middle-aged Dalit women, was there any national protest? Rape and arson of Dalits in Tamil Nadu, was there any national protest? This and many more, the list continues.

Statistics of rape against Dalit women
Reported cases of rape against Dalit women: Maharashtra 35, Tamil Nadu 21 and Gujarat 20. “On the other hand violence on Dalit women by the community itself (including family) saw 15 women being murdered in three states (eight Tamil Nadu, four Gujarat and three Maharashtra), and 37 cases of rape or gang rape (19 Tamil Nadu, 12 Gujarat, 6 Maharashtra) were reported.” [9] According to the study of Navsarjan trust (reported in the Hindu) on atrocity data obtained for Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, between December 2004 and November 2009, “only 0.79 per cent of cases were convicted (three cases) of violence. In Gujarat there were no convictions at all.” According to the organisation’s study there were 379 cases of violence against Dalit women by non-Dalits between December 2004 and November 2009 across the three states. However, the outcome of only 101 cases (26.6 per cent) was known when the data was analysed in the beginning of 2011. [10] 117 cases (30.9 per cent) are pending in courts and the status of 161 cases (42.5 per cent) was unknown. UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women noted, “Dalit women face targeted violence, even rape and murder, by state actors and powerful members of dominant castes to inflict political lessons and crush dissent within the community.” [11]

Looking ahead
There is a tendency of turning the eye away from the atrocities against the most discriminated groups of the world. Society now should take a lesson from the recent incidents of rape. At the least, society should start thinking about avoiding such incidents and making the vibrant and colourful India a society free of stigmas of caste, class, gender and region.

Concerning the appalling situations of Dalits in villages, Khap Panahcyat [12] represent sadist aspect of Indian male chauvinist society which dictates rules according to its convenience. Continuous cases of honour killings and denial of freedom to choose their future partners is still a traditional stigma to the development of Indian society. Mohan Bhagwat has no moral right to comment of communal / anti-nationalist agenda. He lacks the merit to take a firm stand on the situation of women in India when he himself lacks the wisdom of modernity and equality for gender. He still believes in the principles of Vedic discrimination that treat women inferior as compared to men, degenerating them to the status of animals. During his visit to one of the training camps for the other outcasts of Indian society, adivasis, he underlined his superiority by asking tribal women to wash his feet as a part of tradition.13 Such heinous acts in the present day India are still ignored by the protestors. The famous 2007 incident of Guwahati still brings shame to the modern India where a tribal girl aged 17 was seen live stripped naked and beaten by the extremists of the state.14 She is still awaiting justice after five years of that incident which connotes the alarming situation of the unprivileged sections.

Moreover the biased nature of the upper caste females is another problem in bringing justice to this group of females who are stigmatised due to caste and racial prejudices. The chairperson of the National Commission for Women Ms Mamta Sharma, while visiting Guwahati, disregarded the request of the tribal girl who wanted to meet her and express grievances about delay of justice. On the contrary she was asked to see the chairperson in Delhi. Such attitudes of the upper caste females who chair important organisations further add to the failure to address the problem of Dalit and tribal women. The above incident underlines the strong need of forming an independent body that would regulate the rights and protection of Dalit women apart from the National commission for Women. There should be a common norm for the rights of women as a whole and not differentiating their background and religion. Women in the veil should stand for their rights and protest against the patriarchal society if their livelihood is threatened; they should take lessons from progressive Muslim societies where for example women march on streets to demand their rights or knock the doors of courts bravely.
The politicians in the upper house of Indian parliament shedding tears does not necessarily create sympathy for those groups who are raped on a daily basis. The question as to why their grievances are not heard and why there is no protest in the parliament when they were brutalized on a daily basis remains unanswered. Hence, the tearful Bollywood and adamant opposition would potentially look better if it ever tries to raise a voice against the daily atrocities of Dalit women which form a large portion of the Indian society.

Lack of interest by the international players
To date it is clearly visible that whenever an atrocity happens against Dalits in India, it is only Dalit group or Dalit social organisations who take up the matter for justice. There is seldom any mainstream figure seen in raising the voice against this injustice. Speaking of Bollywood, no Indian film has dared to show the actual plight of Dalits except a few Dalit inspired directors from the same lowly ascribed hierarchical strata (Varna). Neither did any of the Bollywood figures show sympathy to the victims of Khairlanji massacre15, in the very state of Maharashtra where the Bollywood film industry is situated. Although Dalits and caste system has got currency in the international market, we see the slaughter of Dalits is sold in the international market by the well-established NGOs and development agencies. No international NGO from India has ever voiced a concern on the rape of Dalit / tribal women in Orissa or Maharashtra. It was the international Dalit’s solidarity network and Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace (ACJP) that worked along these lines. In my personal experience, in the light of growing atrocities against Dalit women, no Indian NGO working on international level ever staged protest against this barbarism except the activism carried out by NRI Dalits in North America and Europe. And the very few Indian NGOs who were slightly active in lobbying the issues of Dalit women were governed by their own prejudices. When questioned about the situation of Dalits, one of the UN expert in London, an Indian, he could not provide any meaningful response, but instead ended up defending the perpetrators.

Plight of Dalit women are sadly not addressed at international level due to the lack of Dalit women leadership, although there are few educated academicians and students who are now raising their voice and demanding their rights to be addressed. And the Dalit diaspora is alarming foreign parliaments with human rights of 160 million Indians. At least this recent outrage of protests will educate unaware Indians about the daily happenings in their society.

Conclusion
This paper makes the critique of the current situation of rape protest across Delhi and worldwide. It has looked into the situation of the Dalit society which sees rape as a recurring phenomenon at the hands of upper caste groups and patriarchy. It has criticised the role of religious leaders for providing false leadership for the Indian citizens.

Statistics, even from the recent past, reveal the true condition of Dalit women in Indian society. There is further need for elaborate research to separately record atrocities against Dalit women in the national crime bureau statistics. The biased and apathetic role of international NGOs of India in ignoring the issue of caste needs to change.

Notes
[1] Manusmriti: Chapter IX verse 114
[2] Manusmriti:Chapter IX verse 17
[3] Protest against sexual violence in India Outside the Indian High Commission, London, WC2B 4NA

http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/protest-against-sexual-violence-in-india/

[4] HT correspondent, J’amaat: ban co-education to curb rapes’ Hindustan Times, January 06, 2013
[5] ‘Delhi gang rape: Asaram Bapu holds girl responsible for rape’ the times of India, January 01st, 2013 available on http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/news/Delhi-gang-rape-Asaram-Bapu-holds-girl-responsible-for-rape/videoshow/17922619.cms accessed January 01st, 2013
[6] Controversial and interesting, India divine, available on http://www.indiadivine.org/showthread.php?t=27784 accessed 07th January 2013
[7] Ruth Manorma, ‘fighting for Dalit women’ 04th June 2012 available on http://informed-giving.org/story_details.php?id=MTQx accessed 07th January 2013
[8] http://path-to-dignity.org/film-english
[9] Rahi Gaikwad, ‘Dalit women at the receiving end’ the Hindu, 25 September 2012
[10] Data taken from the article by Rahi Gaikwad, Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Piyush Shirvasta, ‘Sangh chief in feet-wash row after tribal women are forced to clean his toes’ mail today, 4 March 2012 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2109751/Mohan-Bhagwat-feet-wash-row-tribal-women-forced-clean-toes.html

Resources
Crime in India 2005, http://ncrb.nic.in/crime2005/home.htm and http://ncrb.nic.in/crime2005/cii-2005/CHAP7.pdf taken from IDSN Annual report, 2006 footnote 1.

S Narula, “Equal by Law, Unequal by Caste: The ‘Untouchable’ Condition in Critical Race Perspective,” 26 WIS. INT’L L.J. 255, 2008

European Parliament resolution on the human rights situation of the Dalits in India, ‘Human rights of the Dalits in India’ , February 01, 2007, Brussels
Hetal Shah, ‘Dalit women face three-fold discrimination from birth’ http://womennewsnetwork.net/2012/01/25/dalit-women-discrimination-from-birth/
Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s Untouchables, Human Rights Watch, 1999 available on http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,HRW,,IND,4562d8cf2,3ae6a83f0,0.html

National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, National Crime Records Bureau (M.H.A.), Statement Showing Cases Registered with the Police Under Different Nature of Crimes and Atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from 1994 to 1996 (New Delhi: Government of India, 1997).

http://idsn.org/fileadmin/user_folder/pdf/New_files/Key_Issues/Dalit_Women/HRC-11_briefing_note_-_Violence_against_Dalit_Women.pdf

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2007-0016+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN#def_1_2

http://www.unwomen.org/publications/fge-final-external-evaluation-reportdalit-womens-livelihoods-accountability-initiative-in-india/

http://www.unwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/FGE-Programme-Evaluation-Gender-at-Work-DSS-India-2012-EN.pdf

http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/ruralwomen/unwomen-good-practice.html

http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,HRW,,IND,4562d8cf2,3ae6a83f0,0.html

http://www.adecomnetwork.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=90&Itemid=94

http://idsn.org/uploads/media/Violence_against_Dalit_Woment.pdf

No Comments »

Leave a comment