Four Dalit (low caste) women are raped every day. There are cases where women are raped inside the police station as they go to file a complaint of sexual harassment, there are also cases where, even if rape charges are registered, the SC/ST Atrocities Act is not implemented. NCRB (National Crimes Record Bureau) data shows the conviction rate for crimes against Dalits and Adivasis (tribal women) is much lower than the rest. What else is this if not institutional, structural bias built around caste solidarity between criminal, police, and judiciary?
That’s why Dalit women’s bodies can be made an easy site of violence: there’s no risk, no price to pay, the perpetrator is confident about the impunity, the social-political protection he gets by virtue of being from a ruling caste. For decades this has been an implicit bias—a tendency to favour—but now it is brazen and demanded as a right.
The recent incident of a 19 year old rape victim from the Hathras district in Northern India highlights this bias. Here it’s not just the attackers who committed the crime, but the authorities too treated her family with indignity – before and after death.
The 19-year-old woman was cutting grass to feed the family’s five milk buffalo when she was taken away by a group of upper-caste men on Sept. 14, according to her brother.
Her tongue was cut and her spinal cord was broken after she was dragged by her neck with a rope. It took days of repeated complaints before the police finally acted and arrested the 4 accused, who are from upper caste families living near to the victim’s home.
For 14 days the victim fought for her life. She named her attackers and described the brutality of the incident. Unfortunately she died from her injuries.
A post-mortem shockingly concluded that there was no evidence of rape. Then the victims body was taken away by the police and cremated in the middle of the night without the family’s consent. They were not even allowed to see her face. The victim's mother wanted to take her daughters body home for rituals before the last rites, but her request was denied.
Videos shared widely on news TV channels and social media show the victims distraught family and villagers making several attempts to claim her body as the police ambulance arrived in the village.
In one video, her mother is seen weeping with her head on the bonnet of the car. In another, she's sitting on the road in front of the ambulance, weeping and beating her chest.
She's heard repeatedly pleading with officials to hand over the body to her so she could take it home one last time - and perform some rituals.
According to the victim’s brother the police beat up members of the family when they protested to see the body, adding that even women members of the family were beaten up.
"They took the body away without our permission, without the permission of my parents and cremated her. We didn't even get to see her one last time," he said.
Her death has sparked anger across the country. Dalit activists have shut down the main market in Hathras and are demanding action against police officers.
Several opposition leaders have condemned the incident, calling it "insulting and unjust".
Dalits are some of India's most downtrodden citizens because of an unforgiving Hindu caste hierarchy that condemns them to the bottom of the ladder. Despite laws that protect them, discrimination remains a daily reality for the Dalit population, thought to number around 200 million.