On 19th November, WSS conducted a conference bringing together feminists from various backgrounds to speak on the growing sexual and casteist violence against Dalit women. The panel focused on the role of the Manuvaadi state in weaponising sexual assault and violence against Bahujans and marginalised minorities.
State’s response to Sexual Assault
Seema Azad brought to the forefront the vastly different ways in which the State dealt with cases of rape and murder of Dalit women. On one hand, in the Hathras case, state forces in Uttar Pradesh tried their very best to shield the accused who were from an “upper caste” background. They took many efforts to remove evidence and it was only after there was massive uproar across the country that the police made any arrests. Rapists often burn the bodies of victims to erase evidence, but the increasing instances of police doing the same is deeply concerning.
But very same UP Government and police responded very differently to a case where a 22 year old Dalit woman was allegedly drugged and raped by two muslim men and sent home with broken legs in an auto in Balrampur. In this case, the UP Government said that they intend to file National Security Act against the accused. The BJP Government, especially in UP, disproportionately uses NSA against muslims.
Roop Rekha Verma also pointed out that the UP Government favours Thakurs, and giving them a free chit to enact violence. They do this by barring journalists and dissenters from reporting these cases. Even when she and others went to light candles in remembrance and protest of the Hathras victim’s rape and death, they were stopped by the UP police. They are creating a narrative that those opposing this are attempting to start a “caste war.” Uma Chakravarti also agreed that the “Thakur Sarkar” scrambled to create a counter narrative by arresting journalists and suggesting links to Kashmir, but that they were unsuccessful in doing so.
Even without declaring it, the Constitution has been suspended. the country is running on the basis of the manusmriti,
Roop Rekha Verma
Nisha also raised the above concern by connecting this to NEP. While the NEP is praised for “interdisciplinary” education, she argued that the Government also is using it to propagate sexist, brahmanical ideas. In her child’s school, girls are taught how to prepare the bed, how to be a good wife, how to make sons and so on.
Rape as State Sanctioned
Arpan spoke regarding the idea that rape is sanctioned by State forces by relating to a case in Sonipat’s Butana village. In June, police held two men and four women who had met up at night.
The police told one of the men, “leave the girl overnight with me” to avoid charges
In their attempts to protect themselves, the women killed two police personnel. Arpan described what followed as a “witch hunt” as the police grabbed women in the village and questioned them randomly. On July 2nd, the two girls surrendered after one of their mother handed them over. On July 6th they were produced in court after being repeatedly raped by at least ten police. One of them was a minor at the time. Without her mother’s knowledge, the minor taken to a hospital after sustaining injuries.
The police did not file an FIR immediately, and many women’s organisations had to intervene. Even then, police officials as well as villagers believed that the women deserved the “punishment” for going out at midnight as well as for killing the two police officers. The judge also rejected bail for the women stating they’re not safe in police custody as they were out at midnight. Arpan said that the police were Thakurs and the women Dalits, and that the Panchayat told the girls to take the complaint back.
Mary John further explained that in areas dominated by Jats, they saw scholarships and allowances given to Dalit women as undue privilege given to Dalits. Often gangs would seek girls out in bikes. Often, they would form relationships with these women and then the partner and his friends would gang rape her. In such situations, the girls would often face social boycott, pressure from police and panchayat and hostility from teachers an students. The police too would dismiss such cases, especially if the girl died by writing it off as suicide.
Land Rights and Sexual Violence
Kusum pointed out that when cases of sexual violence get a mainstream appeal, the Government provides compensation, with the money provided increasing as per the scale of public response. But women’s organisations reject these as they deviate from the root issue. Instead of such packets, Dalit women should be given land.
Rajveer Kaur further highlighted this relation between violence and the role of land and distribution and resources.
“Why are Dalit women assaulted? Why is violence on her body worse? we have to look at the material basis of this oppression, rather than just the cultural aspects”
Without land of their own, Dalit people work as agricultural labourers for so-called upper caste landlords. In Punjab and Haryana, 80% landless peasants are Dalit. Besides working on the field alongside their husbands, Dalit women are also expected to work in the homes of their landlords. In these spaces, their landlords rape or sexually harass them as a way of showing domination.
Arpan also referred to Operation Greenhunt, where Adivasis were targeted as “naxalites” by Government of India’s paramilitary forces. State forces continuously used rape as a tool against Adivasis fighting for land and forest rights by demonising them as “maoists” and “naxalites.”
Thus, Rajveer Kaur explains that rape is a tool of maintaining structures of oppression against muslims, Bahujans and and it is supported by the state. In order to annihilate the Brahmanical patriarchy, land redistribution is essential.
Despite concerns regarding the rising cases of violence, as well as both the judiciary and legislative being partisan, some women also said that they were hopeful as Dalit women, especially in Haryana are fighting back against their oppressors. After the Hathras case, Dalit women were also able to capture the public sphere. Moreover, they praised groups like Pinjra Tod- who started out as an organisation fighting for women’s freedom in Delhi University Hostels- for growing beyond their initial scope, and protesting against oppressive state forces.