The grisly incident that took place a couple of months ago in Jind, Haryana is a stark reminder of the State's antipathy towards Dalits, which continue to downplay their concerns, many years after the Prevention of Atrocity Act came into being. It bring us back to the debate as to what sort of holistic measures have been taken by our government in several years to handle the issue of caste based violence.
A 20 year old girl is thrown away at an isolated canal near agricultural fields in Jind after being raped, physically brutalized and sexually tortured and the government is keeping its mouth shut. It is utterly shocking to see that while several other cases of sexual violence gain limelight, cases of caste based violence fail to attract public attention. It is necessary to reiterate the fact that cases of physical and sexual violence with Dalits and Adivasis do not attract State's attention with the same intensity as an incident involving an urban, upper caste person does. Why does the State continue to marginalize people at the lowest rung of the society? Why does civil society remain muted when a dalit woman is sexually violated?
In this rape incident I would not argue about the diplomatic nature of the State as it is quite apparent that it comes to rescue perpetrators in cases of rape, violence and other forms of sexual assault even where the victim does not belong to the dalit community. However, in case of violence inflicted on the dalit community, it refuses to lodge an FIR in most cases, and if at all the police do oblige, they carry out mediocre investigations. It shows a clear cut pattern of step-brotherly treatment meted out to dalits. It is rather shameful that police feels no accountability in cases of caste based violence, and conveniently compromises either due to local political pressure or for hefty bribes from the powerful dominant upper caste groups.
A generation that has lived in extreme deprivation has a lingering fear about survival in a land where the 'protector' often resides in the skin of a betrayer. Dalits, especially those residing in rural areas, lack support systems where the power is vested with the upper-castes and are always denied rightful justice. The gruesome evidences of rape, naked parading, social boycott and brutal murder are very much a dark reality of modern India. The concerns of Dalits are tabooed, as much as they are themselves by the larger society. They see a clear hierarchy in issues; the lower one goes down the caste ladder, the greater the trivialization of the issue. The disgraceful act of kicking the body of a dead girl to check if she was really dead and later leaving it unattended for several hours in the hospital (as in the case of the Dalit student in Jind), shows the casteist nature of our systems which are supposed to protect the rights of Dalits. Police ridiculed the death of the girl by arguing, citing several conflicting reasons for her death - from mosquito bite to poisoning - showing us again how the State cannot be trusted.
It is rather anguishing that the lives of thousands are of no worth to the Indian society. Dalits surviving in this state of being denied the right to a dignified life, don't have much hope for dignity after their death too. Their life as well as death has no meaning to the people who rely on their labour for their daily survival. I am not shocked but rather tormented to observe the cold response from the bureaucracy, always easily shedding their responsibility, towards the issues of Dalit women. When it comes to gross incidents of violence - Dalit's houses being burnt, murder of dalit families, why does the State go into a limbo?
In the context of the recent Jind case, Ms. Shelja Kumari, preoccupied with her appointments, could not give a minute to the protesting delegation and left even before the protesters reached her house, revealing that the levels of sensitivity are dropping by the hour. It raises several fingers on the State's intention to provide security to Dalits, as citizens of Independent India. Why are incidents of caste based violence not looked at as incidents of gross apathy towards Dalits and booked under the Prevention of Atrocities Act? In cases like this, what is to be their course of action? Why after so many years of stockpiling of heinous crimes against Dalits, the State continues to be tolerant? Does the State lack interest in providing dignity and security to Dalits against caste based violence?
Justice for the Jind rape is still in the pipeline. It is important that cases of caste-based violence are booked under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and not as simple acts of violence. It is important that we acknowledge caste as an underlying factor in instigating caste based violence. It is the need of the hour to openly debate the impact of these incidents taking place with Dalits, creating a real divide within the society. It is time to turn the tables and let the State prove that it is no longer cultivating a casteist mindset. The onus has to be shifted towards the State to create a foreground for annihilation of the casteist mindset. The State must register a public apology and accept the responsibility for the continued humiliation of a particular section of Indian population over the centuries. It is only then that measures for eradicating casteist beliefs will become meaningful in a real sense.
The father of the Dalit student in Jind, and human rights lawyer Rajat Kalsan
The father and brother of the Baniya Khera rape and murder victim deposed before the two day National Tribunal - Violence Against Dalit Women, held at Constitution Club, New Delhi, on Sept. 30 and Oct 1st, 2013.
Please read the Fact Finding report on the Baniya Khera, Jind, case here.
Jyotsna Siddharth is pursuing her M.Phil in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.