Thursday, May 10, 2018

Caste and Rape in India

Caste permeates every aspect of life across vast swathes of India, particularly in rural areas. 

Observers say caste-based rape is a tool of domination that the upper castes use against "lower-caste" women. Analysts point out that rape is often used as a weapon when there is a situation of caste or class conflict. This was evident in February 2016 when an agitation by the Jat community, a relatively well-off upper caste agricultural community demanding reservation or "quotas" in government jobs, disrupted life in the northern state of Haryana. During the violent riots, it came to light that attackers dragged out nine women, all Dalits, from their houses and subjected them to gang rape. Similar incidents have also happened in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. 

Sexual violence cases involving marginalized groups — including tribal people and the Dalits, who form the bottom of the Hindu caste and social hierarchy — haven't received enough public attention, say analysts.

Vulnerable to systematic discrimination and attacks, women from the Dalit community regularly fall victim to sexual crimes committed by "upper-caste" Hindu men. Activists chronicling atrocities against the Dalit community say the rural women are subjected to ghastly crimes when they or their families are deemed to have violated traditional caste-derived rules and norms.

"One form of punishment is that either their property is burnt down or looted. The other degrading method is, women are raped, undressed and then paraded in public squares," Shabnam Hashmi, a social activist told DW.

"We have seen this almost on a daily, yet sickening, basis. There is no caste-based data on sexual crimes in the country, but it is there for everyone to see. The women are also targeted more when their men folk leave for urban centers in search of work," Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, told DW.

Sexual violence is not restricted to rural spaces, however. Last month, the southern city of Hyderabad's crime records bureau pointed out that over the past three years, 37 Dalit and tribal women in the city have been raped by members of upper castes.

"Rape is about power. Therefore, rape of Dalit women by upper-caste men is an exercise of power. It is also how upper-caste men can imply that Dalit men were not able to 'protect' women. Hence, rape is also a contest among men," sociologist Sanjay Srivastava told DW.

Many perpetrators commit sexual crimes with a sense of impunity, say experts, pointing to abysmally low conviction rates and a lack of legal protection for the victims.

Dalit women number over 100 million and according to the National Crime Records Bureau, more than four Dalit women are raped every day. The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an NGO, says over 23 percent of Dalit women report being raped, and many have reported multiple instances of rape.

"The government's claims about safeguarding Dalit rights are a sham. Caste-based power dynamics need to be challenged. We are dealing with a historical problem here," says activist Paul Diwakar.

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