Trigger Warning: Rape, Violence, Caste-based sexual violence
The Hathras incident in Uttar Pradesh is truly heart-wrenching and it is weighing us down to know how four Thakur men raped a young Dalit girl and left her to die. After the girl died, her body was doused with petrol and set alight without the consent of her family. This shows the attitude of the administration who, even now, does not respect the dignity of Dalit women. Nor is the administration taking the violence against Dalit women seriously. We do not see the government or the administration making any effort to help the affected family’s quest for justice, or to provide relief of any kind. Instead, the current government and administration is threatening the family. This is not the first instance of such pressure tactics being used by the government and administration. We have seen similar cases before Hathras.
Often the women of the victim’s family are made to face violence in order to make sure that the family is not able to speak up because of the fear of their honour being lost. In this way, upper caste people threaten Dalit families and pose a challenge to them so they know that if they ever consider going ahead and filing a complaint against the accused, the women of the community will have to face violence. This is how the families are silenced.
In the present case, the upper castes had already, on many occasions, shown their malice towards the Dalit family, to the extent that on one previous occasion they had attacked the victim’s father and had even chopped off his finger. The family had been raising their voices constantly against the injustice meted out to them and this young girl was targeted in an attempt to silence them. This is typically the case with violence faced by Dalit women at the hands of upper castes.
We have had to witness this kind of behaviour over the centuries and we put up with it even now. Despite this being the case, nobody is willing to accept that the violence and atrocities that Dalit women have to face is an outcome of caste, patriarchy and the financial dependence on upper castes. This truth is not accepted by the administration, the media or savarna people. Because this truth has been refuted time and again, the violence against Dalit women has only kept increasing and Dalit women have had to pay for it with their lives.
How violently must a person be crushed in order to awaken the conscience of these people?
Will our conscience only awaken when someone loses their life?
When there was a gangrape in Delhi in 2012, the whole country took to the streets. Every person’s sympathy was with the victim in her quest for justice, yet in this same country 10 Dalit women are raped every day and nobody bats an eyelid. To the extent that the mainstream media does not even cover it as news. Even if by some chance the case does get covered by the media, there will be a few people who will come and protest and have a candlelight march or two. We will see the case being documented through a few platforms and then everything will go quiet.
And what happens then? Nobody even bothers to find out and ask the victim’s family what they need to live their lives and to pursue justice.
Today too, I am seeing the same spectacle. It makes me worried as well as happy. I am happy because so many people have taken to the streets to seek justice for one of our Dalit sisters and are helping to highlight this case. I am worried because I hope that this does not become a story of a few days and the case does not get suppressed. From the experiences of the last 10 years, we can see so many cases where every effort was made to lobby for justice at every level. This is not the first time in our experience that a Dalit girl has been raped and subsequently murdered. We do not know how many women and girls have had to and continue to become victims of such heinous crimes.
In most cases, the administration takes the same line: the girl’s character was bad, she was having an affair, or her family members have murdered her. Then the family is subjected to narco analysis or they are charged with a counter case. These are the strategies they use to pressurise the victim’s family and to silence the voice of justice. This is what we are seeing in the Hathras case as well. From the government, to police, administration, commission or the judicial system – all these mechanisms have failed to deliver justice. Dalit women do not get justice; they do not get to live with dignity and they are not considered as human beings.
I remember Delta’s case well. The situation of the Hathras case was the same as Delta’s case and her family’s. In that case too, many organisations raised their voices; there were candle marches and debates on television. Every strategy that could be adopted to give the victim’s family justice was used, but no justice was done to the family till date. Similarly, there was a case in Haryana where a Dalit girl was raped and the family was subsequently subjected to narcoanalysis. There was a CBI probe in that case too and the family is harassed even now, but no justice is served.
There was another case in Haryana where a young Dalit girl who was going to write her exams with her teacher was abducted, raped and subsequently burnt with cigarettes and murdered. To get her post mortem done, we had brought her dead body all the way to AIIMS in Delhi. In that case too, there were protests, candlelight marches, and we were subjected to lathi charge, but there has been no justice done. The police administration said the same thing that they always say in the cases of young Dalit women: “The girl was having an affair.”
How long will the police administration keep using this pathetic excuse to suppress the voice of justice?
It is after all a big truth that the very police administration and judicial system that Dalit women approach to seek justice works against their interests. In such circumstances the question that arises is: how long will this keep happening to our Dalit women and children and for how long must they be deprived of justice?
Today again we are asking for a CBI probe in the Hathras case; today we are again asking the administration to do justice and are demanding the CM’s resignation. But these demands have been made before in many cases. In most cases though, Dalit women have not received justice. In this situation, the question that arises is: what must we do to sustain the hope for justice, and how do we get justice without delay and further difficulties?
Most of the administration suffers from a casteist mindset. Influenced by the ideology of caste, those conducting the investigation keep the victim and the victim’s family deprived of justice in direct and indirect ways. In these circumstances, expecting them to serve justice is a huge mistake. Now the question before us is: how long will our young Dalit girls have to keep facing this casteist mindset? For how long will our lives be stuck in this quagmire? Do Dalit women not have the right to forge ahead and see dreams of our own?
Also read: How Far Is Hathras From Your home?
Is the caste system destroying Dalit women’s dreams before they are realised?
Dalit girls could have been doctors or teachers in large numbers but the caste system has destroyed them forever. It is my belief that it is now time to uproot and do away with this caste system, creating a new and safe society for our young girls. Today I appeal to all of you to not sit back and rest until our sister in the Hathras case does not get justice. If we want to strengthen our fight for justice, we need to attack this anti-women and anti-Dalit governmental mechanism of the caste system. We will have to fight a long fight so that we can feel some pride as citizens of this country and so that we may live.
Jai Bhim, Jai Savitri!
Anju Singh is the first young Dalit women leader speaker at 10th UN minority forum at Geneva. She is a core group member of the national level collective of young Dalit women leaders at the Dalit Women Fight. Her role involves providing critical & practical support to Dalit women leaders in order to strengthen advocacy and campaigns towards hope, healing and justice. In particular, she has led several workshops for survivors of sexual violence and social media trainings for young activists across North India. Anju has also been a key driving force behind Dalit Women Self-Respect Marches that have been taking place since late 2014, in India and the United States. Marches in India register high impact, especially in the lives of young Dalit women, who are mobilized to be part of community meetings, survivor support groups, legal interactions, and engagement with authorities from the local government. The Dalit Women’s Self Respect North American Tour (www.dalitwomenfight.com) that took place in 2015 had Anju present at many universities across the United States, including MIT, UC Berkeley, and CUNY. She has also participated and presented at many international conferences. You can find her on Twitter.
This piece was first published in Hindi here.
It was translated by Anju Christine Lingham, who is a PhD researcher at King’s College london.