No social barriers to rape

As an Indian woman in the UK, I was shocked to read in today’s Metro that nearly 99 out of 100 sexual offences go unpunished in the UK.

That’s right, in the UK – not in some poor southern country with millions of disempowered women. A country with supportive legislation, and state-financed support systems still cannot protect its women and children.

What hope then do Indian women have?

The recent incident involving the rape, torture and death of a young medical student is a case in point.

She was a young, educated, upper-middle-class, upper-caste girl who was returning home after a movie and some shopping in one of Delhi’s malls. The gang rape and torture happened on a public bus.

In India, caste is always a key factor in how people are treated. In this case, the six accused men are from a wide variety of castes including Sharma (Brahmin), Vysya (trader caste) and potentially two Dalit men (lower caste)  and one Muslim young man – yes, a truly ‘united Indian front’. I really cannot remember the last time such public, inter-caste cooperation occurred!

India is in an uproar over this. The government and legislature are falling over themselves in setting up special courts, legal processes are happening  at speeds never seen before in India, instituting policy processes to make India continue to seem benign, safe and shining to the rest of the world – but we Indian women know better.

What hope then do Dalit women have?

The targeted rape of Dalit women in India is such an ordinary and mundane aspect of India’s social fabric that the media doesn’t even bother to report them.

Just three months before the Delhi incident, a 16-year-old Dalit girl in Haryana was gang raped for three hours by eight drunken, upper-caste men – the only time ‘untouchables become touchable’.

The men filmed the incident on their phones and showed it to the girl’s father, who then committed suicide. None of the men have been prosecuted.

Before his suicide, the father registered the rape with the police in an attempt to get some justice for his daughter. This was just one in an epidemic of rapes in Haryana, with many victims being children younger than 16 and almost all of them being Dalit girls.

As an Indian woman, I’m glad that the issue of rape has been brought to the forefront and the state is finally being forced and shamed into putting safeguards in place for women.

However, as a Dalit activist, I’m angry that a caste-entrenched state will not respond to the routine rape, torture and killing of Dalit women and girls.

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  • roseline obidah

    you know i thought only the Nigerian woman goes through all of this pain i see written down? kai! what a world! where then can a woman hide? where can she run to? so since i’m not a man the law has put me outside? those responsible for justice think! what if it happens to your own? the time returns you know. continue in your struggles and may God reward your effort. the world has seen so many troubles but this is one particular scourge that should be looked into. from men raping vulnerable women to the youth gang raping vulnerable old women most times to death and the rich of the society bailing them out of police custody never to be prosecuted, what a shame to leadership worldwide!

  • This appaling act in India has shocked the world. If something good can come from it then we must maintain our horror and awareness of this and other stories like this around the world to governments and policy makers.
    India needs to wake up to the fact that we in the West find it disgusting that this goes on, particularly to lower caste girls, unreported, and the girl is the one who is shamed, possibly forever, while the men get away free and unpunished.
    As a regular traveler to India, I have been told these stories before and have been ashamed for India.
    Because this girl is higher caste, now something will be done, even if it is a token gesture or a short lived spell of outrage buy the government.
    It is up to men and women who deal with these countries that allow this to happen, to voice our concerns and disgust.
    Sign petitions, email, speak out for these voiceless girls whenever you can. They can’t do it by themselves.

  • Kanchana Lanzet

    Violence against women, especially sexual assault and rape, is a complex social phenomenon. It is a result of many factors.Women who are poor, Dalits and Tribal women are often targets of sexual assault and rape which goes unnoticed.Our voices for the socio-culturally and economically disadvantaged Dalit and Tribal women need to be even more louder.Rape is rape and it is the one issue that affects women world over crossing the boundaries of caste, creed,ethnicity, race, religion and so on. India has a strong civil society. It is high time that the members of the civil society came together with other societal supporters like friendly media, enlightened citizens etc. to stop violence against women. For women to walk with dignity and freedom a social transformation is needed, a change in the values, attitudes and male perceptions of women, by both men as well as women.