The Caste Angle: Why is caste relevant to a crime?

Kakali Das

There’s, often, a point that has been raised regarding why the caste of the victim belonging to the marginalised communities is brought to light whenever a crime against women takes place, with the very statement, ‘a woman is a woman irrespective of their castes.’ What must be understood is thatthe women who are upwardly mobile or are assertive and belong to the marginalised communities mostly are targeted for sexual violence. Whenever a woman from these communities go against these patriarchal norms, the beneficiaries of the patriarchal caste system immediately take “corrective actions” to put the women from the marginalised communities in their so called place. Here, we witness both a soft way and a hard way of the perpetrators dealing with these women. The soft way is to entice or allure the women romantically in order to basically divert the women from their career paths. Because once boys and girls from theDalit community study and go in for government jobs, their status in the society ascends and that for this patriarchal system is unacceptable. Whereas, the hard way is to gang up together and rape these women. These are the strategies that have been systematically used. A lot of the reasons why these women are targeted, it doesn’t happen in a void. They are carefully orchestrated attacks. So, YES, it is a caste and a gender based crime.

Besides, have we ever witnessed any headline as “a Brahmin girl raped” or “a Rajput girl raped” either in the newspaper or a news channel? NO! The reason behind it is that even though crimes take place irrespective of what castes or religions one belong to, these kind of sexual violence happen within the family of these privileged communities as a lot of the movements of the women from the upper communities are given less freedom of movement. So, most of the time it is men from their own circle by whom they face sexual violence. So, these become a matter of honour to these families and hence are quickly and quietly suppressed or brushed under the carpet and never reaches the authorities. That is the reason behind the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data stating that a large number of the sexual violence cases that are reported and filed belongs to the Dalit community. Surprisingly, in the NCRB data that is forwarded once a year, we see an increase in crimes against women, and that too women from the Dalit and Adivasi communities year after year. The level of sexual violence more experienced are by the women of the marginalised communities.

It has been a year since the Hathras crime had taken place. The manner in which the media, the police along with the rest of the society deals with these crimes is unacceptable. People continue to commit crimes fearlessly as the message that has been forwarded by this justice system time and again is that nobody would ever be tried and executed no matter how grave a crime they commit.

There is a kind of angle to this whole issue of reportage of gender violence and specifically of gender violence experienced by women from the oppressed communities.

“Last week, in an area which is about 50kms from Bangalore we had a situation where girls from a small village were travelling into the city to go to college regularly by bus. They used to be systemically targeted and troubled all during the four months. Finally, the girls complained to their parents and when the parents came to confront the boys who were troubling them, they mobilized a group of 50 people to beat up the parents of the Dalit girls who brought it up,” Cynthia Stephen, a Dalit activist, writer, social policy researcher and independent journalist said.

This is a kind of a targeting of anyone, any Dalit women particularly, who try to follow their dreams and make a position in the society. It’s a known fact that when the women from these suppressed communities are seeking higher education, or working in a public office for instance, their subconscious mind have to battle a lot of casteism and classism when they try to carry out their duties. Even though they may be in the southwards of the village they aren’t expected to attend the meetings; the books are sent to their house. There is discrimination and lack of acceptance of a public role for these women.

“Media reportage is anyway very limited when a crime of any kind takes place. There is barely any follow-up of what happens, how the cases are running in the courts, how they are being investigated and how it’s turning out eventually.” Cynthia Stephen further said.

On being asked what the scope of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is, and if it comes into play in every case that the police are required to register, Cynthia Stephen said, “The SC and ST Act immediately applies if the survivor of the crime is a Dalit; it is immediately applied and has to be registered. It so happens though that mostly the police do not put the adequate or correct name, or the correct sections in the FIR. Furthermore, a lot of the cases that are filed are closed eventually because the local politicians, the men in the community are threatened or a intimidated in such a way that they elope run from the village. Mostly, the victims belong to a disadvantaged community, and the assailants a dominant community. So, the justice hardly prevails, and a so-called compromise is arrived at.”

Although, the court has distinctly stated that no compromises are in the case of crimes against Dalit are acceptable,but it still prevails unabashedly. If the cases don’t reach the court, who knows what has happened! Moreover,we do mention the caste of the victim but never of the assailant. They always say and write that a Dalit or an Adivasi girl was raped, but never a statement as “a Thakur or Brahmin boy raped.” Why is it that only the caste of the victim is mentioned and reiterated, and never of the perpetrator? The media needs to be vocal and address that too.

An another layer of a problem is that when the family of the survivor go to file a complaint about these crimes, the police who are in uniform and are also representatives of the caste groups they come from, they are often dissuaded from filing a complaint; their complaints never turn into FIRs. In fact, a lot of times, the family members, the brothers, the father are kept in lock up to teach them a lesson, or a word is sent to the perpetrator’s family to inform them about the complaint against them and to enquire what could be done thereafter. So, while the establishment aren’t supposed to represent caste, religion or any other community, but only the law, it doesn’t

The impunity that exists to rapists, and the reason why these caste, sexual violence, and other crimes continue to rise, rather than plummet is because the system of justice, the law and order, the police, the judiciary, the hospital authorities are complicit to ensure that the caste hierarchies are maintained, and that the survivors continue to be victimised. All these state machineries continue to further increase the problems or oppression upon the survivor of the violence.

Lastly, when our constitution promises us equality and fraternity across the board, it doesn’t mean that one among us might rise to the top and it’s beneficial for us. It means that everyone is equal and not a single one among us should be less than equal. Unless every single one is treated with equality in education, healthcare, human rights, and the same way as a Brahmin or other ‘higher’ castes when they walk into a police station, court of law, a government office, these atrocities and discrimination will exist perpetually. Unless the distinction between these castes is completely erased, we will not be fulfilling what our constitution promises. And that is the charter that has been written out for us to achieve. The biggest issue, currently, is that we aren’t acknowledging the problems, and unless we realise it, we won’t get closure to truly being equal.

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