She was denied the most basic dignity even in death. Her broken body was cremated in the darkness of night by the UP police. Correction. The UP police, the uniformed guardians of rapists. Her grieving family was barricaded in its home in their village, denied the right to give their daughter the funeral she deserved. She was killed not just by her killers and their uniformed guardians, but by the fact that she lived in the centre of the unique Made in India social crossing, where the exploitations and oppressions of caste, class and patriarchy intersect. Valmiki. Dalit. Poor. Woman. 19 years old. Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh.
In the face of national outrage and condemnation, news is fed to the media that the Prime Minister has “spoken to the UP Chief Minister to take strict action against the officials concerned.” The hypocrisy makes one sick to the stomach. The young woman was in a Delhi hospital for several days. The news of the caste-driven atrocities against her and the criminal connivance of the UP police was widely reported. There was deafening silence from the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the BJP leadership. Not a single government functionary visited her or her family in the hospital.
On September 14, the young woman, along with her brother and mother had gone to the fields to cut fodder where they separated. Her brother went back home earlier to tend to the cattle. Her mother, having completed her work, called out to her daughter and getting no response, started looking for her. About a hundred metres away, she found her daughter in a pool of blood, grieviously injured, unable to speak, unable to walk. The criminals had dragged the girl with her dupatta, almost broken her neck, injured her spine, bitten her tongue, tried to strangle her, committed horrific atrocities on her. The girl spoke a name, identified in the first instance one of the men who had raped her. Sandeep. The son of a Thakur landlord. She knew him as several other young women in the village did – with a reputation of being a drunkard, a bully, of sexually harassing women and of getting away with it every time.
The filing of the FIR was delayed reportedly by five days, the urgent medical treatment the teen required was not provided. Yet, mustering all her courage despite the pain she suffered, she gave a clear statement to the police. That she had been gang-raped. She named the men involved. She described what had been done to her. Yet, shockingly and shamefully, the UP police have been brazenly trying to shield the culprits by underplaying the barbarity of the crime. “No, they did not try to strangle her”, they say, “her spine was injured because they dragged her”. “No, they did not bite her tongue,” they say, “she did it to herself when they tried to strangle her..” But wait, didn’t you just say they did not try and strangle her? How do you assume they did not slash her tongue? Who told you? The rapists?
The IG, Aligarh, a senior police officer, told the media that “initial reports did not suggest rape.” Which reports is he referring to? There was no proper medical examination until days after the rape. If it is “initial”, where is the second report? Is he saying there was no rape and the girl was lying? These police officials are culpable of protecting the accused. They too are criminals. Should not action be taken against them? When the PM asks for strict action against officials, does he include actions against these connivers?
Are the top brass of the BJP unaware of the unwritten code of the Adityanath Government – that caste brotherhood with the Chief Minister grants you special immunity from the law, especially in rape cases? FIRs are not filed, victims find themselves doubly victimized, their families threatened, witnesses get killed mysteriously in accidents, the list is endless. The Unnao rape case victim was victimized multiple times by this unwritten code. This was the case involving Senger, a BJP leader and then MLA, who raped a 17-year-old in 2017, implicated her father in a false case, got him beaten up so severely that he later died due to his injuries, threatened and bullied the victim to withdraw the case. For a full year, it was the Yogi Government and its caste code which protected him. It was only after the intervention of the Allahabad High Court that he was arrested. The case was referred to the CBI. He was convicted and given a life sentence. A month ago, the CBI informed the UP police that it had found four officers, one from the IAS and three from the police, to be guilty of “dereliction of duty” in the case and recommended they be punished. Three of these officers are of the protected caste species. No action has been taken. On the contrary, they continue to occupy important positions.
Another case is that of the so-called Swamy Chinmayand, also a former BJP leader and protected by the caste code of the Chief Minister. He has been accused of exploiting a young woman student. Again, he was given full protection by the government. A biased SIT (Special Investigation Team) refused to levy the more stringent rape laws against him. On the contrary, the girl is being victimized, terrorized and punished for reporting against him. There are many such examples. The State Women’s Commission head has not said a word. The Women and Child Welfare Minister is silent. Is it just a coincidence that both of them are also part of the protected caste species?
The recent NCRB report shows the highest increase of over seven percent in crimes against Dalits in UP and an equally high increase in crimes against women. Put these together and it becomes clear why UP is not just emerging as the most lawless state, but also a state in which all socially marginalized sections are being treated not by the values and principles of the constitution of India, but by the code set out by the Manusmriti.
Sections of citizens who are protesting and demanding justice for the girl express a sense of disquiet that the issue of caste is being brought in. This is a crime against a woman, they say, whoever the criminal is, punish him, why bring in caste? They should know and learn about the caste code in operation in UP. They should also know that in Hathras, caste-based mobilizations in defence of the criminals are taking place. They are powerful enough to sabotage processes of justice.
It is true that all women by virtue of being women are vulnerable to violence, domestic and sexual. But it would be quite wrong to see women as a homogenous social group. There are critical class-based and, in the Indian context, caste-based issues which differentiate women’s social experiences. In the case of the victim from Hathras, she belonged to a family of agricultural workers subordinate to the economic power of landlords creating deep insecurities in the working conditions. Women of the working rural poor and, more specifically, Dalit women have to face the power of patriarchal, powerful, economic and social forces. In the Indian context, the slogan of sisterhood or women’s unity is meaningless and would be reduced to a sham if it did not include a unity to fight caste – and class-based oppression and exploitation of women. Ignoring Dalit women’s specific experiences in the name of women’s unity is to actually impose a privileged class – and caste-based bias on struggles for justice.
Today in Delhi, women and student organisations and activists protested outside UP Bhavan. In Lucknow and others parts of UP also, there were protests. It is only these people’s voices and mobilizations that can initiate a push back, a resistance to policies which perpetuate and patronize such atrocities.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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