The Horror Visited Upon The Hathras Rape Victim Is As Much A Casteist Issue As It Is About Gendered Violence

As women, we're horrified by the Hathras rape victim's ordeal, but as Savarna women, we must ask ourself if we too are complicit in this caste based violence.

As women, we’re horrified by the Hathras rape victim’s ordeal, but as Savarna women, we must ask ourself if we too are complicit in this caste based violence.

TW: This has discussion of rape, caste-based violence, and violence against women, so survivors may be triggered by it.

My dear Savarna sisters,

You are angry. I can see that. I feel your rage too.

What happened to the Hathras rape victim is horrifying. We recount again and again of the way her body was brutalized. How her poor mother was not even allowed to see her dead body, even as we in our outrage, constantly share the visuals of it.

Why do we feel the need to dwell on the graphic details?

We need to have a conversation, about why we need all these detailed descriptions of violence to outrage and empathize. Why we let other cases of gender and caste based violence go unheeded, simply because they are not ‘brutal enough.’

It says something about us and about how normalized such incidents are, that we can only feel outraged when something so extreme happens.

Many of us are invoking Nirbhaya. And yes, that was horrific. But this case is more like Khairlanji, in which four members of a Dalit family were killed because “the entire village which was dominated by OBC caste groups of Kalar, Powar and Kunbi, could never come to terms with the fact that these two Dalit families have risen economically, educationally and have began the task of self asserting.” The women of the family – Surekha and Priyanka, were paraded naked, raped and mutilated. The date of the massacre, a chilling coincidence, 29th September, 2006.

The court, when it announced its judgement, refused to invoke The Scheduled Caste and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and held that the murder was based on revenge and the caste was not at work here.

Caste is certainly a factor in this case

Which is the same as the constant refrain that I hear now, from many Savarna women, who claim that the rape of the Hathras victim was ‘purely a gender issue’. Including from journalist Pallavi Ghosh, who didn’t want to “reduce” the crime to a crime against a Dalit.

And that is where we are wrong. Because intersectionality is relevant here. Yes, all women in India have the fear of rape constantly hanging over our heads, but for Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi women, rape and exploitation are a much more stark reality.

As this Human Rights Watch report points out, “the use of sexual abuse and other forms of violence against Dalit women as tools by landlords and the police to inflict political “lessons” and crush dissent and labor movements within Dalit communities,” is not uncommon.

Not just the crime, but even the follow up to it reeks of casteism

Her rapists have the support of the ‘Savarna Parishad.’ Her family has been denied the opportunity to perform her last rites, and her body has been burned, even as they were locked away.

These things would not happen to us savarna women. We are protected by our caste privileges here.

To quote Meena Kandasamy’s poem, “In a land where Dalits cannot rule, they cannot rage, or even mourn. This has happened before, this will happen again.”

So please, stop pretending like the Hathras rape victim’s caste doesn’t matter here. Unless we examine our own caste privilege, and see how our silence and defensiveness on caste are a part of the problem, unless we are willing to own up to our complicity in this (yes, even if we are feminists. yes, even if we are allies), we are being unjust to her, and to many like her.

Yes, I realise that I’m also a savarna woman outraging here

And I realize the irony of saying this, as a savarna woman, in this context, but we MUST stop taking up space. Even as we outrage, we must do so by amplifying the voices of our Dalit and Bahujan sisters, whose opinions, and emotions on this issue matter far more than ours.

And if we do speak, we must do so only to question ourselves and our own complicity in this. We must question the ways in which we uphold caste. We must question our own ignorance of it. And we must talk about what we can do to dismantle these structures.

That is the only way we can move this discourse forward, and perhaps find a solution, so that there are no more Dalit Bahujan Adivasi rape victims.

Author’s Note: The author of this piece is a Savarna woman. The intention of this post is to spark a conversation among savarna women about our complicity in maintaining the caste system, and the urgency of the need to break down these oppressive structure. This is not an attempt to occupy space that rightfully belongs to Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi women.

Image source: thainolpho via Canva Pro

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