October 11, 2020 5:52:38 am
Demanding that UP government and the Centre take stringent action against accused in the Hathras case and implement the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM), which is affiliated with the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, marked a protest at Dr Ambedkar Bhawan on Rani Jhansi road Saturday.
Abhirami Jotheeswaran (41), director of AIDMAM, told The Indian Express, “The Hathras case is not an isolated incident. As per the National Crime Records Bureau data of 2019, 10 Dalit women are raped daily, and crimes against them – which includes sexual violence such as rape – have risen in the past few years.”
Jotheeswaran used to be a software engineer in Chennai and shared her family’s experiences with caste discrimination. “My grandfather was a sub-inspector in a village called Mambalapattu. They used to stay in the main area of the village. When he retired, the dominant castes put immense pressure on them to move back to the Dalit hamlet, away from there. They tolerated him when he had power and discriminated against him after his retirement. They eventually had to leave the village and shift to Chennai,” she said.
Jotheeswaran said sexual violence perpetrated against Dalit women is an attempt by non-Dalit castes to exert power, intimidate and silence their voices. “The rising violence against Dalits is because they have started to assert themselves, get educated. In villages, since they do not own land and tend to be illiterate, they end up being dependent on dominant castes. In Bulandshahr, a 14-year-old was raped recently, and we found it exceedingly difficult to talk to the victim’s family, as they had immense pressure on them not to speak. The dominant castes want to create an atmosphere of fear. In Hathras, with the Section 144 enforced and the upper castes “protesting”, it creates immense pressure on the families, immense fear even for the security of Dalit men. So it makes the victim’s community less likely to reveal anything. That is why so many cases go unreported.”
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Caste discrimination also exists in the cities, said the members. Raised in Delhi, Kanika (26), a documentation officer at AIDMAM, said, “My father works as a plumber. I studied in a Delhi government school and graduated from Lady Shri Ram College for Women in political science. Despite living in the city, people I meet judge me a lot and see me only as a by-product of the reservation system.”
Jotheeswaran said, “I studied in a girls’ college, and my peers used to mock me and only ask me where I am from, what my family did. Because of that I isolated myself from them.”
Hailing from Rajasthan, Grijesh (38), an advocate and the national coordinator of the AIDMAM, told The Indian Express at the protest, “My father had a government job, so I personally did not face as much discrimination. But while working in Jaipur I used to have difficulty finding a place to stay, as people would first ask my caste and then refuse to rent to someone from the SC community.”
Grijesh said the Hathras case has many similarities to the Bhanwari Devi case of 2011, when the 36-year-old auxiliary nurse midwife was raped and murdered. “In that case as well, a Dalit woman was raped and murdered as the dominant castes saw her as a threat. The evidence was tampered. They disposed of the body, and ash was dumped into the river. The Rajasthan HC took cognizance and put pressure on the state police. Eventually the CBI investigated and a chargesheet was filed. The case is still going on.”
She said even the data suggests bias in investigations. “We see that the conviction rate when it comes to SC/ST Act is below 30 per cent and in IPC it is more than 60 per cent. Chargesheets do not have the SC/ST Act mentioned, which impacts the judgment,” she said.
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