Authored by Amanda Ruth, law student from Government Law College Ernkulam
Recently, the gang rape and subsequent death of a 19 year-old Dalit woman has caught widespread media attention and condemnation from people across the country. The incident took place in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh, India in the month of September 2020.
Timeline of Events
14th September 2020 – A 19 year old Dalit woman, while on her way to collect fodder for cattle, was dragged away by the dupatta around her neck, by four men who then allegedly gang-raped her. She was also strangulated for attempting to resist the attempted rape.
Her cry for help was heard by her mother, who then rushed to the scene.
Even though they approached the police soon after the incident, the police rejected all claims and humiliated them and also refused to register the complaint
20th September 2020 – The police registers the complaint.
22nd September 2020 – The police records the victim’s statements.
24th September 2020 – The police arrests 4 men, identified as Sandip, Ramu, Lavkush and Ravi, belonging to Thakur caste.
29th September 2020 – The victim succumbs to injuries and dies in Safdarjung Hospital Delhi, a day after she was brought from Aligarh. The body is cremated by the police in the early hours of the day, without the consent of the family.
A day after the cremation, the President of Bhim Army (a Dalit-rights organization), Chandrasekhar Azad is placed under house arrest for staging a protest against the government, demanding justice for the victim.
3rd October 2020 – The police officers are suspended by the State Government.
4th October 2020 – An ex-MLA of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holds a rally in support of the accused. The rally is attended by hundreds of people, including the family of the four accused and members of right-wing and upper-caste political parties.
7th October 2020 – Four people, including a Malayali journalist are arrested and booked under the UAPA Act for attempting to visit the village.
There is no doubt that the whole series of events surrounding the crime deserves utmost condemnation because of the clear evidence of derogation of rights as well as abuse of law and protocols. The alleged wrongs committed by the accused, the support that they receive because they belong to a higher caste, not just from the people, but also from the government and the police cannot be justified in any manner. There are also debates surrounding whether the victim was in fact raped, such is the state of affairs.
It cannot be denied that the case is an instance of caste-based violence, intending to dehumanize the Dalit community. It is an outcome of systemic and deep-rooted casteism and misogyny. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2019, nearly ten Dalit women are raped every day in the country with Uttar Pradesh recording among the highest numbers. The refusal of the police in the instant case may be attributed to their interest in protecting the four accused, all of whom belong to the Thakur upper caste. It was also reported that though the victim had suffered several severe injuries which led to a state of paralysis, the hospital authorities did not attend much to it.
The police who are supposed to be the watchdogs of justice have humiliated the victim and her family when they were approached for help. The family had refused to take the body of the victim and to sign any documents until the government assures a speedy probe and justice to the victim and her family. Under the circumstances, the police had forcefully cremated the body of the victim, without the family’s knowledge or consent.
The Allahabad High Court took suo moto cognizance on learning about the forced cremation and called upon the victim’s family, the Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate to appear before it. The Bench stated that the matter was of “immense public importance and public interest as it involves allegation of high handedness by the State authorities resulting in violation of the basic human and fundamental rights not only of the deceased victim but also of her family members”.
Meena Kandasamy, writer and activist said, “A caste conditioned society which believes that it has the right to be violent against Dalits will unleash this violence at the first instance against women and children, and especially, because they are the most vulnerable.”
We cannot turn a blind eye to the support and protection afforded to the upper caste for perpetrating crimes against the Dalit community. In the case of the gang-rape of Bhanwari Devi, which happened in the year 1992, the perpetrators were acquitted three years later on the grounds that a woman from a lower caste would not be raped by upper-caste men due to reasons of ‘purity’.
Despite the legislative and constitutional safeguards provided to Dalit women, there has been a constant failure on the part of states to provide them with even basic rights.
It is not the time for us to stay silent. We must protest against the injustice that is being continuously done.
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
 https://thewire.in/caste/hathras-case-structural-violence-dalit-women-intersecting-factors Accessed 8th October 2020