Liberating the Voices of Dalit Women

Dalit women have always been at the lowest end of this 'social hierarchy' that has engulfed our society. They've been constant victims of rape, violence, harassment, and assault. And despite this, they are the last ones to get justice.

hathras case dalit lives matter
Hathras case created outrage against caste based violence on Dalit women within India and amongst diaspora | BBC

Bhukh Roti Ki

Roti Bajre Ki

Bajra Khet Ka

Khet Thakur Ka

– Om Prakash Valmiki  (an extract from Thakur Ka Kuan)

What recently happened in Hathras was not only detestable but also brought to light the various inadequacies in our societal functioning. A 19-year-old Dalit girl was brutally raped by men belonging to a dominant caste and was left in an unspeakable condition. Unfortunately, she succumbed to her injuries and was even surreptitiously cremated by the police at night, but this incident successfully ignited a spark of protests and discussions on the plight of Dalit women in this country.

A responsible government in such a scenario would have extended its help to the family of the girl and also would’ve left no stones unturned in slapping severe punishment to the accused. However, the Yogi Adityanath led UP government was busy tying up loose ends to protect their image across the nation. The government tried its best to suppress this issue through some irrational and incoherent means- like preventing the opposition from entering the village, imposing Section 144 throughout Hathras, striking sedition charges on individuals the government alleged were ‘conspirators’ and even tapping the phones of journalists.

While the streets of Delar overflowed with livid protestors, back in UP, the government was constantly trying to quash the intensity of the incident by downplaying it.

An important dimension is the caste of the victim that is hitched with the entire incident. And this is where our inadequacy as a tolerant society becomes conspicuous.

Among the people who were demanding the strictest action for the culprits, some were not enthusiastic about bringing the caste of the girl to the crux of the entire issue. Without realizing that her being a Dalit is a major reason for delayed justice. For them, the only time a Dalit is included in their discussions is when they have to denounce the system of reservation.

Dalit women have always been at the lowest end of this ‘social hierarchy’ that has engulfed our society. They’ve been constant victims of rape, violence, harassment, and assault. And despite this, they are the last ones to get justice.

Take the case of Bhanwari Devi, a lower caste woman and a saathin at the Women’s Development Programme of the Government of Rajasthan who was gang-raped by dominant caste males in 1992. In her long and arduous journey for justice, the nation witnessed some outrageous remarks by the district court which acquitted the rapists stating that upper caste men cannot even touch a lower caste woman due to the protection of their purity, let alone rape a woman.

Another case is of a 14-year-old Adivasi girl named Mathura who was raped by two policemen in 1972 in a police station in Maharashtra. The accused were acquitted as the Supreme Court declared, “Because she was used to sex, she might have incited the cops to have intercourse with her”.

A thirty-year-old Dalit old woman, Jisha, was raped inside her house in Kerala in 2016. Despite repeatedly complaining to the police of the unwanted sexual advances made by men towards her, the police did not do anything. Eventually, Jisha was found raped and murdered in her home. The absence of any public outcry indicates the level to which things have been made to seem normal.

After a Dalit woman has been a victim of casteism, it is the institutional casteism that substitutes the casual casteism and prevents her from getting justice, always reminding her of her position in the society. It is true that the country is a breeding ground for misogynists, and an incompetent bureaucratic system that often takes an ambivalent stance in cases involving Dalits, especially women, makes it further difficult for victims of atrocities like rape, abuse, assault, etc. to get justice on time.

Being a Dalit only exacerbates the ordeals of a woman who is subject to all sorts of brutality and hostility from society. The caste of a woman in torment plays an important role in determining which way the hands of justice will point toward. Thus, in every case involving a Dalit woman, her caste plays an important role and should be at the forefront in getting her timely justice.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan #DalitWomenFight

The Hathras rape case is a reminder of the constant inequities that Dalit women are subject to, and the reluctance of the state to take action so as to make their lives comfortable. On the brighter side, the public outrage over Hathras also indicates an awoken public and select media who put in efforts to make the government accountable. This fight was not only for the Hathras victim but equally for Jisha, Mathura, and many other innumerable women who perished in the repulsive hands of casteism. The fire that this incident has lit mustn’t douse till we as a society have reached a level where being a Dalit and a woman is equal to being an oppressive caste man in terms of rights and privileges and most importantly access to justice.

I wonder what Rohith would’ve thought of this. His words still striking my mind like a sword piercing the human flesh.

“Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust”- Rohith Vemula

Let us keep the flame burning. Let us not shatter the dream that Dr. Ambedkar had shared with us. Let us do it right this time.


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June 2024



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