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What Savarna Feminists Must Do To Enable Dalit Bahujan Adivasi Women To Speak Of Their Trauma

If you are an intersectional feminist, raise your voice against the caste based gang rape and murder by Savarna men of a little Dalit girl in Delhi Cantonment in your privileged circles. Your voice carries heft.

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If you are an intersectional feminist, raise your voice against the caste based gang rape and murder by Savarna men of a little Dalit girl in Delhi Cantonment in your privileged circles. Your voice carries heft.

A little girl, all of 9 years on a lazy Sunday evening in Delhi, tells her mother she is going to get a drink of cold water from the water cooler at the crematorium opposite their modest home. An hour later, when the girl doesn’t return, the mother goes looking for her. The priest at the crematorium tells her that the little girl is dead from electrocution, supposedly from the water cooler, and shows her the ‘body’. The family is quickly convinced to not report the matter to the police. The little girl is ‘cremated’ without her parents’ consent.

After the initial shock, the mother realizes that what they are looking at, is gang rape and murder of their little child, and a hasty attempt to cover up the heinous crime. The imbalance in the social power between the perpetrators and the victim’s family that caused the culprits to act with such impunity, was born of caste.

The victim was a Dalit girl. The perpetrators –  there are 4 of them – except one is who from a minority religion, all are Savarna, oppressor caste men.

This piece of writing isn’t a news report on the case. This is written from a sense of horror. Horror, because this is 2021 and such atrocities are continuing to be committed day after day, hour after hour.

I read about it on Tuesday like the rest of the country, and waited for voices to rise in protest. Voices on social media, voices of people in power, voices that carry heft. There was radio silence. Except the odd news item, and the mildly trending #justiceforDelhiCanttgirl on Twitter, there was no noise, no voice for at least 2 days after.

Definitely not enough for a caste, class, gender violence inflicted on a little child of 9.

However Clubhouse, a relatively new social media platform that hosts rooms on varied topics, lit up with angry, rage filled discussions, and rightly so. The rooms were hosted by predominantly Bahujan people, holding and protecting their space, voicing their opinions through their lived experiences and calling it accurately, a caste atrocity.

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Feminists with privilege must enable those who do not have it

The Savarnas who control the majority of the wealth and the power of the country decided to stay muted and disinterested; indifferent even. The ‘Upper Caste’ populace decided to keep mum, because of course it didn’t affect them. One of their own wasn’t raped or killed.

It was critically urgent for those in their ivory towers of power and privilege to speak up and carry forward the message of condemnation of the crime without drowning out the DBA voices. In spaces that are conspicuously devoid of DBA presence it falls on the Savarna populace to amplify those  messages and help seek visibility.

Since there was so little representation from the Savarna commununity condemning this crime, a few of us intersectional feminists (who also happen to be Savarna by birth) decided to host a room on Clubhouse to stand in solidarity with those who are subjected to all kinds of aggression in the name of caste.

A quick lesson – Savarnas are those who are born into one of the 4 varnas and have been historically considered “upper caste”. There is a need to explain this, because in the feminist struggle, there are many who are not intersectional in their voice, ie. the concern for equal rights is limited to issues of privileged women like wage gap, or workplace sexual harassment in white collar jobs etc. Intersectional feminists are those who speak up for all issues oppressed genders, castes, communities and classes face.

The anger and anguish of DBA voices spilled over on Clubhouse

The voices of the Bahujan women who rose up in our room, would have chilled anyone to the bone.

The rules as framed by us were clear.

  • No Bahujan woman would be spoken over, no one would tone police them because of course they are angry.
  • No caste apologists would be allowed on stage.
  • If a Bahujan person calls you out for your internalized casteist vocabulary, you step back silently with nary a whimper.
  • You learn your words better and come back to stand silently behind the women who are speaking.
  • You enable conversations in your space, you don’t take away the agency of a Bahujan person and you don’t speak for them.

The voices we heard that day were articulate and belonged to feisty, strong Bahujan women, who could teach you a thing or two about equity and equality.

When one man countered that women were actually Avarna and the whole feminism struggle was hogwash, we heard an eloquent Bahujan woman tartly explaining the different waves of feminism, what it means to be an intersectional feminist and which book/article to read up on it, eg Kimberle Crenshaw’s essay on intersectionality and the differences between socialist feminism, liberal feminism and radical feminism, putting the ill informed man firmly in his place. We heard about the fear a Bahujan woman faces when she leaves her house – the threat of sexual terrorism – because rape is a form of terrorism intended to control either the victim themselves or their community. We heard about what they face every day of their lives, that savarnas would never ever face.

The outpouring of anger, anguish, grief and fear should make us as a society hang our heads in shame.

Why was this incident not addressed by most Savarna feminist circles?

The fact that this Delhi Cantonment gang rape and murder was hardly being spoken of in Savarna circles was proof of the apathy that privileged people display towards atrocities the other castes face.

What is the cause of this apathy? Have we seen too many of these crimes on the marginalized, that we are immune when it happens again and again? Why are the voices that screamed for capital punishment for the rapists in the Nirbhaya case or the Hyderabad case not protesting now? Why did the state machinery move heaven and earth in these 2 cases? Why didn’t these voices rise against the Hathras case or this one?

Where is the accountability on the state to protect Dalit lives that are constantly endangered? How many rapists are going scot-free? Why are the protestors being removed? Haven’t we set a precedent that the only way to get justice for the rapes and murders is through social media uproar and candle marches and protests? Why can’t swift justice be served without any of these?

Yes, this was gender violence, but also caste based violence

The narrative in discussions is insidiously twisted around the gender of the child and covered under the garb of gender violence. Why is there such reluctance and defensiveness to call out caste crimes? As a feminist myself, it is amply clear that this is a caste based brutality before a gender based crime. Are we saying this would not happen to a little Dalit boy?

Gender violence is a reality, but when a crime is committed that is more than just about the gender of the victim, it is imperative to recognize it for what it is and accountability fixed correctly. How else do we propose to identify causes of aggression and oppression against the marginalized and protect them? Let us not for a minute believe that such cruelties only happen in the rural areas (as if rural areas should not be free from crime). Have we forgotten Dr Payal Tadvi’s suicide in Mumbai only a few years ago?

Speaking as a feminist, if we are not committed to standing up against all aggression and violence that oppressed castes, classes and genders face, we aren’t really feminists at all. So if you are an intersectional feminist, raise your voice against the caste based gang rape and murder by Savarna men of a little Dalit girl in Delhi Cantonment in your privileged circles. Your voice carries heft. Use it to educate, open up conversations on social equity, equal rights and human rights issues. It is your duty. As it is mine.

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About the Author

Poornima Kulathu

I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends read more...

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