India: Caste Difference Contributes to Violence Against Dalit Women

Women News Network
"Madhya Pradesh has perhaps the highest number of gang rapes in the India. Shockingly, in the last 1,300 days — from Dec 7, 2003 to June 30, 2007 – 1,217 gang rapes were reported in the state as per the Madhya Pradesh State Assembly records."
Because of their caste Dalit women, also known as Scheduled Caste women, are often given very few equal rights or protections.
Nineteen-year-old Anita, of Raisen district in Madhya Pradesh in Central India was raped by a group of males, on February 9, 2007, when she was returning home after working in a nearby farm. Police registered the case and launched a hunt for the accused.

A lower caste woman who was part of India’s “Scheduled Caste” was raped in Chhatarpur district on November 7, 2006 by four men. According to the report, the woman who was raped had gone to attend to “nature’s call.” Police arrested all four men on the complaint of the woman.

Pursuing justice is not easy for a lower caste woman in Central India if the crime is rape. It is not uncommon in Madhya Pradesh for women to suffer callous vendettas, including sexual violence, for the actions of their male relatives.

The Scheduled Caste in India, also known as the “dalit” or the “untouchables”, make up only 16.2% of the entire population of India (2001 India Census).

Three years ago, on July 8, 2004, three women of a Dalit (Scheduled Caste) family were allegedly gang raped by thirty men belonging to upper castes at Bhamtola in Seoni district in revenge for a Dalit boy’s elopement with a girl from an upper caste family. A complaint to the police alleged that about 30 Yadav men raped the Dalit boy’s mother and two aunts, having first paraded them through the village.

These are not isolated incidents.

Madhya Pradesh has perhaps the highest number of gang rapes in the India. Shockingly, in the last 1,300 days — from Dec 7, 2003 to June 30, 2007 – 1,217 gang rapes were reported in the state as per the Madhya Pradesh State Assembly records.

The victims of these rapes were largely women who have minority and disadvantaged status in India. Out of the records, 362 victims were from Central India’s ”Scheduled Castes.” 310 were from the “Scheduled Tribes,” which number 8.2% of India’s total population (India Census records 2001). 381 were from the “backward classes,” comprising only 27% of students in higher education institutions in India (India Surpreme Court finding 2007). And last, 169 of the rapes listed in the Madhya Pradesh State Assembly were from the “general category.”

“Caste-based discrimination is illegal in our country. But we see that men from upper castes always treat lower castes like inferior human beings,” said Right to Food Campaign State Convener, Sachin Jain. “Gang rape is one of the easiest means for men to attack a woman in the villages. Women belonging to Scheduled Castes and tribes are also coming forward through NREGA (India’s Ministry of Rural Development) and the panchayats (local governing bodies) in the state. The upper classes take revenge by committing gang rape. These people once referred to as ‘untouchables’ — have attained positions in local governance but they are still among the poorest and most victimized people.”

A majority of the rape victims are minors that belong to India’s lower classes. Out of 1,217 cases of gang rape, 726 cases cited minor-aged girls who were victims. Take the case of 17 year old Kanchan, who was murdered after a gang rape as she was returning from school in Chakki Khamaria in the Chhindwara district on August 10, 2007. So far on this case police have only managed to arrest one person.

“Everyone wants to take advantage of (the) poverty of these people. One of the easiest way(s) is rape,” said Shiksha Abhiyan Avinash Jhade, State Coordinator of Madhya Pradesh.

Political analyst and writer Rasheed Kidwai feels that rape is, for the members of India’s upper classes, a means to show power rather than sexual gratification. “It is easy to create dominance through rape on the lower castes.” In a Dec 2005 report from Bhopal for India’s daily news, the Calcutta Telegraph, Kidwai outlined how “a 32-year-old Dalit had her hand chopped off in a village near here (Bhopal) for refusing to take back her complaints of rape against two upper-caste men.”

Madhya Pradesh Chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has stated publically that the government would not spare anyone guilty in cases of mass rape.

But the statistics show a totally different picture.

In 136 cases this year the accused could not be arrested in 64 of the cases. On state government failures in controlling crime against lower caste women, Ms. Jamuna Devi, leader of the opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, condemned the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for the increasing incidents of crime against women when she said, “When such is the state of affairs, how can people of the state feel secure”.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, in a written reply to a public question about rape, has accepted the fact that there was a sharp recent rise in incidents of sexual assaults on women in Madhya Pradesh in comparison to earlier years. Sandip Naik, State Coordinator for The Hunger Project, who currently works among women in the local governing bodies, believes that only a fraction of rape cases are reaching the police.

While mindful that gang rape is among the most horrendous crime for teenagers and women to report to the police, Sandip Naik urged that victims follow through. Police role in such cases has always been criticized. Police have failed to nab the culprits in a majority of the cases. Unfortunately for the victims, they have to run from pillar to post to even get the case registered.

In the case of a 15 yr old Scheduled Caste girl who was gang raped in Shajapur district - a report was made three months after the crime was committed. The girl was threatened by her attackers and told not to talk about the ordeal. A police official, too, told her not to mention her rape. The police first lodged the case only as a kidnapping. The girl suffered in silence for months but then gathered the courage to come forward. She then went for a medical checkup.

“It is seen that in most cases the police had been slow to move against the accused because of the pressure from influential people to hush up the case,” said Sandeep Naik on the rape of the 15 yr old minor. The fear is not merely of the physical assault on the body, but of stigmatization associated in India with the act. This fear of stigma associated with this sort of crime prevents these women from talking about it. In many cases the family and the villagers don’t accept the victims. Usually people avoid all interaction with them.

Sandeep Naik added, “In (the) case of rape, the girl is punished for the crime of which she herself is the victim. The same society allows the perpetrator of the crime to lead a normal life, without stigma, after serving the required term in jail - if he is caught and prosecuted”.

Sachin Jain is of the view that, due to fear of social ostracism, most of the rape cases in the villages are not reported. “Sometimes it is the victim who hides the crime,” he said as he added that family members also tended to cover-up the case. These gang rapes are designed to cause not only as much physical pain as possible, but also, as much emotional pain as possible. Because there is so much shame associated with rape in villages very few women actually report the crime. Not only do they think that the rape was their fault, but they believe — and rightfully so — that their families will ostracize them if they report the rape.

Many young girls have been kidnapped, gang raped and tortured in Madhya Pradesh in the last few years. The physical and emotional pain is certainly unbearable. It is inevitable that these young girls may fall into a deep depression with, of course, no possibility for treatment.

By: Shuriah Niazi

27 January 2008