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Dalit women often face sexual violence because of, yes, their caste

You will never, ever hear of a Dalit man raping an upper-caste woman. That alone tells you of the power dynamic of caste-based sexual violence.

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The alleged gangrape and murder of a Dalit woman in Hathras in Uttar Pradesh is being called a Dalit atrocity. Many have a problem with that. What’s caste got to do with rape or murder? Don’t non-Dalits get raped and murdered? Let’s not bring caste into it for no rhyme or reason, they say.

Caste has everything to do with this case, as it does with almost every case of rape of Dalit women in at least rural India.

Let us take a deep dive into the Hathras case. Why did the Thakur men allegedly rape and murder the 20-year-old woman? Was it like the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi in December 2012? No. Jyoti Singh had boarded a bus home. She didn’t know the bus was actually a trap and the drunk men in it were looking for a night of ‘fun’. Caste was therefore not in the picture: it could have been any woman.

In Hathras, the Thakur men knew the Dalit woman. They were neighbours. And the two families had been having disputes for 20 years now. Just a family dispute, you’d say, what’s caste got to do with it? To answer that, let us look at the nature of the old family feud.

Also read: UP Police cremates Hathras gang rape victim at 2.25 am, keeping protesting family away

The Dalit family has some agricultural land. Twenty years ago, the Thakur family would bring their buffaloes to graze on the crops the Dalit family was growing. The Dalit family — the woman’s grandfather — reportedly asked the Thakurs to take the buffaloes away.

So far it is a dispute that could happen between any two individuals: between two Thakurs, too. But hereon, it becomes a caste dispute.

The Thakur family was incensed that a Dalit man had the gall to ‘talk back’ to a Thakur. This is the root of the problem. The saga of violence, threats, cases, and resistance since then has culminated in the murder of the woman.

“Angered that a Dalit could tell them this, they attacked him with a knife-like object. When my grandfather tried to protect his neck, the knife cut away his fingers,” the woman’s brother told Newslaundry. He further explained to Newslaundry reporters: “People here still practise untouchability. Going past our households lowers their dignity. Our grandparents still stand up if one of them passes by. You will never find a Thakur or Brahmin entering our houses and if they need to tell us something, they send a messenger. Our ancestors used to clean their houses everyday in exchange for some bread. Today, the Thakurs are angry because we do not clean their houses or give them the respect they think they deserve.”

You can go to almost any village in India to find that different caste groups live in geographically separated bastis, and when homes or landholdings are next to each other, there is often a dispute. Talk to the dominant upper castes in the village and ask them about Dalits. They will often tell you how the Dalits don’t listen to them anymore, how they used to be subservient but that’s changing. And the upper castes are not happy about it.

When Dalits resist oppression, land grab, forced labour or sexual assault, they are often met with violence.

Also read: Hathras rape evokes outrage online but UP opposition leaders are nowhere to be seen

Why Dalit women are targeted

The dispute over grazing buffaloes over someone’s crops is about caste, because the Thakurs think they can get away with it by virtue of caste domination. You won’t ever hear of a Dalit grazing his or her cattle over a Thakur’s farm.

In many such cases when the Dalits speak up and object, the result is sexual assault or rape of the women in the Dalit family. The ‘honour’ of the women is the ultimate weapon to show the Dalit family their place, to establish who is the feudal lord and who is the subject.

Ram Kumar, a prominent Lucknow-based Dalit activist, has been documenting atrocities against Dalits for decades. When asked about whether caste had anything to do with the Hathras rape and murder, he says we wouldn’t have asked this question if the accused men were Dalit or Muslim.

“Had it been Muslim boys? Had the girl been upper caste and boys Dalit? Then what would have happened? Had it been Muslim boys, it would have been a Hindu-Muslim issue and you know what that leads to these days. Had it been Dalit boys, there would have been violence against Dalits across the state. Houses would have been bulldozed,” Kumar says.

“I have seen not one but hundreds of cases. When Dalits stand up for justice, their mothers and daughters are raped. The idea is to show down the whole community — tumhari aukat kya hai? What’s your worth?” He explains that it also helps silence the Dalit family and makes them give up their land and retract FIRs.

Since rape is seen as an act of humiliation and dishonour, many families of victims go silent and stop resisting the everyday caste oppression.

But the issue isn’t just one of silencing Dalits who mistakenly demand fundamental rights and justice.

Kumar says, “Upper caste men think they have the right to the bodies of Dalit women. This is something we have seen growing up. Parents have to tell daughters to stay far away from upper-caste men because they know they can’t fight for justice. Now people fight for justice.”

In short, Dalit women are often raped because upper-caste men think they have the right to rape them. It gets worse when the Dalit family is resisting oppression, such as trying to save their crops from the cattle of the upper castes, land grab, ostracisation and so on.

Also read: With midnight cremation, UP Police has silenced Hathras gangrape victim all over again

Ever been to India?

Newspapers are full of stories of atrocities against Dalit women. Every other day you’ll find a headline that says a Dalit woman was raped. In 2013, Kumar was part of a civil society group that prepared a report on violence against Dalit women. At the press conference on the release of the report in Lucknow, a journalist asked why don’t you speak up also for the atrocities against upper-caste women?

Kumar recalls Professor Ramesh Dixit replying, “Find me a single case of a Dalit man raping a Brahmin woman ever.”

That alone should answer those who say the rape of a Dalit woman is not about her caste. The Hathras woman’s brother told The Indian Express this about the main accused: “Sandeep is an alcoholic who harasses women, but nobody ever files a complaint.” Why does ‘nobody ever file a complaint’ against him? It’s because he’s a Thakur, and he can get away with anything. It is caste that gave him such impunity.

None of this is new or unknown. Hindutva supporters want to say caste has nothing to do with rape because they want to deny the cruelty and everyday brutality of the Hindu caste system. The denial is not only to pretend it doesn’t exist, but also to make sure the caste system continues to flourish, since Hindutva forces are largely dominated by upper castes.

It becomes important to point out the obvious and well-known intersectionality between caste and gender because even some liberal-minded upper castes don’t get it, or pretend not to. When a supposedly liberal-minded journalist wants us to not “reduce” a gangrape and murder to a caste atrocity, you really wonder if some Indians have ever been to India.

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

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  1. This cases is about caste and gender both. But you can’t say that Dalit men do not rape. They are innocent. Men from all religions and caste are suppressors of women and are rapists also.

    So, don’t say dalit men cannot be rapist and cannot rape upper caste women or they only rape only lower caste women. You should only write against caste discrimination because this rape case involve caste based discrimination but don’t write against any rape victim and don’t claim confidently that men from certain communty are saint and don’t do sexual crimes or can harrass only a lower caste women. I can give you many examples where rapist is dalit and woman is from upper caste (usually in those cases headlines doesn’t mention caste of rapist or victims and same kind of reporting is done when the rapist is Muslim, in such cases religion is not mentioned in headlines)….So, rapist are in all castes and religions. As a woman I feel bad for all rape victims. And I am not writing all this because I want to deny caste angle in this cases.

    I know, and I’m fully agree that this is a matter of caste based discrimination and caste angle should also be investigated. But don’t say men a certain community are too innocent or suppressed that they can’t rape a woman. They can be suppressed by upper caste men but they have also an advantage of being a men which women of any community do not have.

  2. When Muslims are raping Hindu women, including Dalits, dalals like Vij has nothing to write about! A hypocrite of the worst kind!!! By the way, how much did ISI pay Shekhar Gupta & Vij to publish this article in Pakistan? If Pakistan is so great why don’t people like you – fake Hindus or converted ones just cross over & go sleep with all the terrorists & ISI there!?

    • Drew: Do you have any credible sources to back up your preposterous claims about Muslim rapes, ISI payments to Shekhar Gupta and Shivam Vij and so on ? Or are you also one of the paid trolls of the BJP IT cell ?

  3. Rape I thought was a Male centric Testoterone driven act of uncontrolled Lust ……Syrian Mass rapes of Yazidis… Can I say Sunnis fell It is their Right to rape Kafir Girls??? Or Japanese feel the same about Chinese…. NO rape us a rape there is no caste angle though the Caste mentality does Disrupt the Investigation to such acts… Same with a Sunni Shia Rape or a Afghan Pakistani Or Bihari Bangali or Whatever is the Identity… Rape has nothing to do with Identity… It is Biological… Animal Instinct… It is a Mentaln or Hormonal Sickness stop maligning a caste… Uppers caste is there every where What was the Caste of Nirbhaya Rapists…??? It is not important…. Yes but is Caste equation prevents a Proper Investigation then that is Wrong. … For once focus on Social Evils and Caste based Human attitudes
    Attitudes… And Law Enforcement failures Not the this same old… What was the religion… Or the caste or the…. Creed state Language……. Etc…. This only serves a political narrative not thev nation… Race of the rapist used in developed nations Germany Cologne mass molestation USA …in the immigration politics and in India state election politics….uses…….Caste of the Rapist……in India…. Though Parts of India has this Issue of Inferior Rape Victim Oppression syndrome .. But the whole world has it…. Raping because you feel that person is a minority or inferior…. Because of Negative Conditioning…..and Historic Law enforcement Lapses…..failures to Prosecute…Rapists of certain Caste Race or Ethnicity…Study that

    • Rightly said.. rape is a rape and nothing to do with cast. Author conveniently says because of the cast Dalits are targeted. Woman when found in vulnerable position people take advantage. One example, a lady was raped by 10-15 people, after the rape by couple of men she was thrown beside the road. Whoever was passing by raped the woman, a milkman, farmer, coolie, student. Its the mindset not the caste one has to think about.

  4. The article by Shyam Vij is pure nonsense. It is divisive, corrosive and shows a very twisted line of thinking and argument. Rapes of all kinds of women and children are committed by all kinds of people. They should be punished swiftly and death sentence would be appropriate. This article should be withdrawn and there is no case for naming caste and religion. Why is he silent on rapists of Balrampur?

  5. How long are we going to tolerate this ?? Every-time it’s oppression against a woman who has got nothing to do with your silly and sick caste system. Sometimes it is because she was wearing a skirt or revealing clothes and at other times for being in public places during odd times or being from a lower caste. OK if that’s the case, what about those times when minor children below the age of 10 are killed in the same way.?? It’s some other stupid reason. This needs to end.

    Capital punishments are necessary in India where barbarians and beasts still persists in the disguise of human beings. Firing by execution or hanging within 30-60 days if proven guilty should be exercised and NO bail or right to appeal in higher courts needs to be allowed. Sick of our system.

    Why such events dont happen in other nations?? Are they great souls?? No, it’s because the law helps the victim and her family. The accused, if proven guilty, is slayed in a public arena just to pronounce that this will be the fate if any you attempt to do it.

  6. Whatever this commie libtard has written today is absolutely spot on. The reason why we have remained slaves for 500 years & more is one – caste system ‘s perversion & atrocity against our very own. We became like a being which was eating at its own body parts. Even today, when from remote areas of hindi heartland such terrible incidents emerge, its a reminder of why an otherwise great culture got subjugated. Anyway, now, there can be no tolerance for such animals. The PM himself comes from OBC community (although no comparison with the dalits). Yogi needs to deliver on this front. This is not a matter of political loss/win either. Otherwise what will be the difference between casteist & communal congress versus BJP.

  7. It is about power dynamics :
    the root is between men and women
    Then comes caste, religion, class — who has the power or thinks has the power to be immune.

    After all, same week another woman was gangraped and died — a kaffir abused by muslims. Can the writer argue that it is the religion we should focus on?

  8. If you are reading this and going to criticise this guy then remember either you have never been to rural India or you are just lying yourself out of your biased dogmatic world view. Have some sympathy for the downtrodden.
    This is also true that sexual violence is a different issue and this kind of article should have been published in a different time. It is time for us to honestly introspect our sexist and casteist customs. We need to bring new Sanskar to Hinduism. We need to reform our religion.

  9. What an idiotic article? Nirbhya was bhumihar and her rapists mostly from sc segment. And in this case there is lot of contradictions, the family of victim complained about attack ( attempt to murder) on the four, after 16 days when the victim died , the new angle of rape is being made. AMU did the preliminary medical investigation and they didn’t confirmed it as
    a case of rape but of attack ( attempt to murder). Let the thorough investigation be done in the case.
    Rest all is nothing but politics.

  10. Will we be ever done with an identity-centric perspective on every single incident under this nations sky? Aren’t few communities/groups been dragged into breaking news fancying, who in reality, ended up being scapegoats? The eagerness in our nation to paint respective versions for self-goals is, unfortunately, made possible by few heinous human beings.
    All essential ingredients are readily served by the crooks making ‘narrative’ setting easy.
    A woman’s corpse without head found in drainage last week may not allure ‘entities’ as much as this case does?
    Scoring self goals by lecturing on ‘best-selling’ recipe is cumulating the social damage.

    • A negative can’t be proved. If you haven’t raped any woman, how can it be proved that you haven’t?

  11. Deep-rooted malaise, it almost seems like rural brains have atrophied and are in centuries old mould, the author should suggest some remedies. Perhaps a vaccine injected directly into the brains of these bigoted rascals.

  12. As per the law only the caste of SC and ST are recorded at the time of filing FIRs. If caste and category of all the accused as well as accusers filing FIRs is recorded then we may get an idea whether the SC and ST are committing crimes on General Category or not.

  13. Instant justice Saddam Style must be delivered within next 48 hours.
    No human rights clowns should be allowed any access to the rapists.

    • Mr KB Singh:

      Mr KB Singh:

      You bray:

      “.. Instant justice Saddam Style must be delivered within next 48 hours. ..”

      So, if somebody falsely accuses you of rape – and that too happens in India – you want to be hanged and quartered in 48 hours? With no recourse to a court of law?

      Yes, the wheels of justice might turn slowly. But dispensing with the notion of rule of law would lead to anarchy, vigilante justice, lynch mobs and unbridled violence against vulnerable groups. The rich and the powerful would literally escape with murder while the poor would get the “Saddam Style” treatment that you seem to love.

      When Jessica Lal was murdered in 1999 by Manu Sharma, son of influential Congress leader Venod Sharma, it took 7 years before the case went to court in 2006. All the 32 witnesses turned hostile and Manu Sharma was acquitted. A later media outcry and campaign led to a retrial and a subsequent conviction. My point Mr KB Singh is that the powerful in India are seldom convicted and it is only the poor who get encountered away by the police or by lynch mobs.

      As author Jonathan Swift once said:

      “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”

  14. Sadly 600 YEARS of ISLAMIC rulers and 200 years of Christian rulers and later after 1947 a combination of both did not do anything about it.

    However RSS AND BJP is taking steps to bring Hindus TOGETHER and a process of ensuring the same will take time also HINDU’S have accepted their mistakes and want to correct it.

    • People like Shailesh are bringing a bad name to the country. This kind of gutter thinking decreases our overall societal EQ and IQ significantly and could do with schooling in a delinquent centre.

  15. why we are not mentioning the influence of money in near by Police thana. Because thats the base of issue. These Criminals dont fear police. As the author mentions about not complaining against these Thakurs or Brahmins. Is that because police too fear these people. If yes, then thats the point we should take out otherwise these men should be coming from these caste. That means equal opportunity is not given or some discrimination is there in selection committees. Its time we should hunt for the crux rather than just ending the conversation on Old feudal irony.

  16. yes agreed hathras case has to do with caste. upper caste think they can get away with anything. Don’t you think that it has also to do with lack lusture criminal justuce system, police,judicial reforms. And politicians are not doing enough in this direction and for some reason we do not demand for reforms. We are just content with r sc/st act etc. whereas existing laws if enforced properly can make lot of changes in the society.

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