The sight of two Dalit teenagers, aged 14 and 15, abducted, gangraped and hung from a mango tree near their village in Badaun district, has riveted national attention. The desperate families of the girls had been refused any help by the police. Two of the policemen, both Yadavs, are accused of direct involvement in the crime, which was an act of stunning violence as much as a brutal assertion of caste power and male entitlement. But was this a “rarest of the rare” case, the phrase that has attached itself to the judgement of sexual violence?
The December 16, 2012, gangrape in Delhi, wrenched urban attention to the pervasive phenomenon of rape and sexual assault. The rapists were immediately found, the case fast-tracked and monitored by the media and anguished citizens. But what of the Badaun gangrapes, one of the many unnoticed and unpunished crimes against the Dalit community, meant to establish its absolute vulnerability? Last year’s public agitation and introspection about rape drew attention to the uncooperative default reaction of investigators, the tardiness of the judicial process and the shaming and hostility faced by women at every stage. For a Dalit woman, these obstacles are magnified manifold. While police reform is a handy phrase, it calls for the difficult dismantling of caste power, of Yadav domination encouraged by the fact of the Samajwadi Party in government. Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had said about rape, not long back, that “boys will be boys, they will make mistakes”. This time, the Union home ministry took notice of the Badaun case and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has assured prompt punishment of the guilty.
It so happened that this case drew the attention of a larger public. But only sustained political action can help the families of the Badaun victims find strength and solidarity, can keep up pressure on the state government and the police, and support citizens who are vulnerable to oppression by their powerful neighbours. Any party that claims to care about women, about Dalits or social justice, must be invested in seeing this through. Meanwhile, the generation of citizens newly politicised and angry about the extent and impunity of sexual violence in India must widen their circle of concern.