VIOLENCE AND DALIT WOMEN
Author: Debangana Ray, I year of B.A.,LL.B from Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.
Dalits or untouchables comprise the bottom of India’s caste hierarchies. Dalit women, which consist of 16 percent of the female population, face thrice as much risk of caste and gender-based violence due to their caste, gender and economic position.1 According to a report by the national crime records bureau, 10 women were subjected to rape every day.
The highest number of cases were from the state of Uttar Pradesh followed by Bihar and Rajasthan. In a survey done in Haryana, it has been seen that 80 percent of rapes are committed by upper caste men and in 90 percent of cases there is involvement of at least one upper caste man.
This is followed by the community pressure forcing the survivor to compromise or go through legal settlements. Also, Khap panchayats in 80 percent of the cases use political, economic and social power in order to impede the process of smooth delivery of justice and subsequently force and threaten the survivor’s family to withdraw the case against the upper caste man.
The family further faces obstacles when the agencies of law and order such as the police do not cooperate with the victim. Due to casteist and sexist attitudes, the victim does not receive any help from the police and is further abused by such officers who behave inappropriately with the victim and her family. This insensitive and abusive behaviour victimizes them further.
An incident that stirred up the entire nation that happened in Hathras where a Dalit woman was brutally gang-raped and murdered by four upper-caste men, the government of up which is ruled by an upper caste politician belonging to BJP conveniently used police to forcefully and hastily cremated the body of the victim before the autopsy could be done, Later, a private public relations agency in order to spread the narrative that the victim had not been raped. This incident forms strong evidence as to how Dalit women are subjected to violence every day and further victimized by the government and the police. In the end, by such a failure of the government and police to impede justice, all Dalit women are left all the more vulnerable to potential perpetrators who have no fear due to such an attitude of impunity.
Article 14 and 15 provides the right to equality and prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, sex and religion. Articles 16(1) and 16(2) also prohibit discrimination and provide equal opportunity to all citizens irrespective of caste, creed, sex and religion.
Section 376 of the Indian penal code provides punishments for rape.3 Even though the constitution and the Indian penal code lays down provisions to counter such violence against women, there is lack of effective implementation of such provisions due to deep-rooted stigma against Dalits and sexist and casteist attitudes of people in the society. Also, some groups try to separate the factor of caste from gender-based violence.
However, caste is a very important factor regarding such gender-based violence. India is a caste society. Even till this date, ownership of land, occupation, economic and political power depends on caste. Mostly, all the economic and political power and ownership of the lands is held by the dominant castes of a region. This makes the Dalit, especially Dalit women, vulnerable to violence owing to their status in such a region. Rape and violence against women are a method through which the entire Dalit community is kept in check by the dominant castes.
Recently there has been an increase in awareness of Dalit rights and emergence of Dalit feminism, which is a factor why dominant castes are using violence against women to suppress such awareness and protests and to remind the Dalits of their boundaries. A famous case where such a caste factor was ignored was the landmark Visakha judgement case where the rapist of the social worker Bhanwari Devi was acquitted since the judge felt that upper caste men would not have defiled their caste status by raping a lower caste woman.
The Indian upper-caste dominated mainstream media often ignores such violence against Dalit women and women belonging to marginalized communities. According to a report by the NCRB, the vulnerability of Dalit women to rape has increased by 44 percent in the last 10 years.
Dalit feminism is a very important upcoming topic. It is time that such traditional and patriarchal institutions like caste are dismantled and equality that has been provided to such Dalit women is given. The objective of Dalit feminism is to fight against the hegemonies of caste, gender and masculinity. It is the need for the hour. The Dalit woman struggles throughout her life for her basic necessities and basic rights. She lives in fear and subjugation not only from men of the upper caste but also men of her own caste. It is important to document such struggles of Dalit women in order to identify the problems and chalk out solutions as to how we as a society can lessen the struggles of such women.
The empowerment of such women can help us to dismantle the caste system. Also, how these women are failed by the upper caste dominated government, police and judiciary needs to be spoken about. It is high time we provide awareness to Dalit women of their rights. We need to dismantle Hindu practices such as Yogini which legitimizes prostitution of such lower caste women and makes them vulnerable to diseases such as HIV.
Feminism has limited its focus to patriarchy. However, it needs to include the caste system in its agenda as well. Also, Dalit movements have focused only on caste and have ignored patriarchy as a factor in violence against Dalit women. We need to recognize the women who fight such Brahminical patriarchy throughout their lives and include them in the feminist struggles. New and refined methodologies should be adopted and educated Dalit persons should use this education to implement such methodologies and make their community self-reliant in fighting their struggle without taking the help of non-Dalit organisations and institutions.
1. Tanika Godbole, (2020, October), “Why India’s Dalit women are vulnerable to sexual violence”, dw
2. NH Web Desk, (2020, November 25), “80% of sexual violence against Dalit women committed by dominant caste men”, National Herald India
3. Human Rights Watch, (1999, March), “Broken people: caste violence against India’s Untouchables”
4. Vishaka and others. Vs. The State of Rajasthan and others; (1997) 6 SCC 241 https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1031794/
5. Shyamala, (2020, March 22), “In caste fight, let’s talk about Dalit women”, Indian Express https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/dalit-women-feminism-india-fight-cast-masculinity-6325927/