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While the possibility of sexual assault and harassment impacts most women in India, Dalit women in India are particularly vulnerable. Caste based crimes need significantly more attention than we give them now.
In a disturbing incident in Tamil Nadu, a man belonging to a dominant caste, brutally killed his 13 year old neighbour, a Dalit girl, for rejecting his advances. This episode is once again a reminder of how vulnerable the women of Dalit and tribal communities of our country are.
The caste system is deeply entrenched in the fabric of our society. Medieval and archaic, this system discriminates among people on the basis of their birth and last name. It is well known that women bear the brunt of these caste dynamics the most. One of the horrifying examples of this was the infamous Badaun rape case which caught the attention of International media. More recently, the rape and murder of 8 year old tribal girl in Jammu and Kashmir sparked nationwide outrage. However, once the media spotlight is removed from these cases they either die a slow death or remain pending in the courts of law for decades.
For a lot of upper caste men, violating women from this section of society is a power game. It is a show of their dominance and superiority. Many sexual violence cases against women in rural India have been caste or religion based and are committed with impunity. In a lot of villages, there have been cases of Dalit women being gang-raped or paraded naked as a ‘punishment’ for some imagined crime. Even if a so-called crime has been committed by a man from a vulnerable caste, it is the women from the family who are often subjected to violence. These crimes can range from drinking from a water body reserved for higher castes, to refusing to do any menial tasks assigned to them or fighting against any sort of injustice.
While many social activists and NGOs have been helping vulnerable communities fight such cases, sustained victory is only possible if the stigma attached with being lower caste is removed. Tired of being continually attacked, Dalit women themselves have mobilised in many states and decided to retaliate. Caste based discrimination and violence is a historic problem in India and the very root needs to be destroyed. An important step to take would be caste sensitisation of the cops who also come from the same milieu and have the same prejudices. If the victim fears further exploitation at the hands of the police, she would never even report it and the silent suffering will continue.
It is a time for a revolution, for a change, for a new and better India, where women irrespective of their caste, class, creed or religion can walk without fearing for their personal safety. This change begins with us, with the change in our thinking, with the upbringing that we give to our children, with ending any discrimination we have been party to or see others doing. We need to work together towards a better and brighter future for all women.
Image credits Pepe Pont, via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license 2.0 for representational purposes only.
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