Why Is Crime Against Dalit Women, Especially Sexual Crime, So Rampant?

It’s tough being a woman in India, and it’s tough being a Dalit person in India. It’s worse when you’re both. A Dalit woman.

It’s tough being a woman in India, and it’s tough being a Dalit person in India. It’s worse when you’re both. A Dalit woman.

Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and/or privilege.

To understand exactly how intersectionality affects us, consider this. The same person belonging to different marginalized groups faces different types of discrimination at the same time. Different types of inequalities are co-related and actually exacerbate each other and the overlapping of such inequalities combine to form a bigger problem.

Unnao incident of 3 minor Dalit girls

Last week, on the 17th of February 2021, three minor Dalit girls went missing from home. When the family searched for them, two were found dead under mysterious circumstances in Baburaha Tola village, an upper-caste dominated area in Unnao district, Uttar Pradesh. The third one was found alive but in a critical state.

According to the Hindustan Times, the prime accused wanted to rape one of three girls who had turned him down earlier. Two days after the autopsies, the family of the two girls on Friday made claims of foul play. The girls’ bodies were tied with dupattas and their “clothes were torn” when they were discovered in a field, the family of the girls claimed.

The Hathras rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Sept 2020

On September 14, 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly raped and tortured on a farm in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district. She died two weeks later, battling multiple fractures, spine damage, and other injuries.

The Uttar Pradesh police performed the cremation the same night the woman’s body was brought back to her native village- allegedly against the family’s wishes.

Dalit, and Women – two marginalised identities

What made these cases gain outcry apart from their brutal nature, was the administrative apathy shown towards them.

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Sexual crimes — disturbingly involving unspeakable violence — against Dalit women are rampant across the country. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2019 states that; of the 32,033 rapes registered that year, around 11 per cent were against Dalits. In other words, 10 Dalit women were raped every day in India in 2019.

Dalit women are singularly placed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy and are victims of the deep-rooted patriarchy. Alongside that, an economically weaker background and financial dependency on upper-caste rich men make them more vulnerable in rural areas.

Rampant crime against Dalit women – why?

Research on ‘Violence against Dalit Women in India’ in 2006 which overviewed all crimes against Dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu/Pondicherry and Uttar Pradesh stated that, within the wide range of identified perpetrators of violence against Dalit women in the general community,dominant caste landlords emerged as the most prominent group. Their socio-economic power and status in society make them powerful and authoritative in rural areas.

Most of the Dalit women that face abuse by these men are the ones that have to work for them on their lands in order to earn a livelihood. The violence is meted out in many forms such as physical, verbal and sexual, most commonly in a public place to further humiliate and degrade the victim.

On paper per se, Dalit women are extremely protected under the laws of our Constitution but the lack of their implementation, constant display of impunity by law enforcers, and the low conviction rate in cases of crimes against Dalit women (which is 2% compared to other rape cases) make Dalit women easy targets and the most susceptible to these crimes because the perpetrators almost always get away with it.

Dalit women’s bodies, a retaliatory tool

The causes for these crimes are majorly anger, spite and enmity. Albeit against the caste or the gender. Barbaric sexual crimes are seen as a retaliatory tool against Dalits, whose economic, political and educational rise is being resented by many as assertive behaviour by the community. And when sexual violence is seen as a tool for avenging past animosity, the brutality goes up.

Crimes like raping or murdering or assaulting or even verbally abusing Dalit women give the upper caste men an outlet to assert power over the ‘lower’ caste. Degrading and humiliating their women is how they get back at Dalit men. This is a result of a deep-rooted patriarchal mindset which claims a woman’s honour to be the men and the entire family’s honour; which in turn makes the women suffer. Like in the case of Mukhtar Mai.

Many Dalit activists and non-profits are working towards making life better for Dalit women. It’s imperative that we all do our part by raising our voices in support and solidarity.

First published here.

Image source: By Simon Williams / Ekta Parishad – Ekta Parishad, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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