Horrific rapes in India in recent days have once again sparked outrage and large-scale protests nationwide. The ghastly incidents highlight the link b
Horrific rapes in India in recent days have once again sparked outrage and large-scale protests nationwide. The ghastly incidents highlight the link between sexual violence and the caste system.
aste dynamics permeate every aspect of life across vast swathes of India, particularly in the South Asian nation’s rural areas. When it comes to sexual violence, a potent mix of caste-driven rivalries, and sometimes religion-based ones, has been the prime motivational reason.
The country is still coming to grips with the recent gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir that drew global attention and condemnation. But sexual violence cases involving marginalized groups — including tribal people and the Dalits, who form the bottom of the Hindu caste and social hierarchy — haven’t received enough public attention, say analysts.
Vulnerable to systematic discrimination and attacks, women from the Dalit community regularly fall victim to sexual crimes committed by “upper-caste” Hindu men.
Last month, a Dalit girl who was allegedly raped for several months went to the superintendent of police’s office in the Satna district in the central state of Madhya Pradesh with a six-month-old fetus wrapped in a plastic bag.
She accused three upper-caste locals of sexually assaulting her. In the state of Chhattisgarh, a similar case came to light when a 22-year-old woman was allegedly lured by a priest and raped.
The list is long and observers say the incidents demonstrate that caste-based rape is a tool of domination that the upper castes use against “lower-caste” women.
“We have seen this almost on a daily, yet sickening, basis. There is no caste-based data on sexual crimes in the country, but it is there for everyone to see. The women are also targeted more when their men folk leave for urban centers in search of work,” Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, told DW.
Analysts point out that rape is often used as a weapon when there is a situation of caste or class conflict. This was evident in February 2016 when an agitation by the Jat community, a relatively well-off upper caste agricultural community demanding reservation or “quotas” in government jobs, disrupted life in the northern state of Haryana.
During the violent riots, it came to light that attackers dragged out nine women, all Dalits, from their houses and subjected them to gang rape.
Similar incidents have also happened in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Sexual violence is not restricted to rural spaces, however. Last month, the southern city of Hyderabad’s crime records bureau pointed out that over the past three years, 37 Dalit and tribal women in the city have been raped by members of upper castes.
“Rape is about power. Therefore, rape of Dalit women by upper-caste men is an exercise of power. It is also how upper-caste men can imply that Dalit men were not able to ‘protect’ women. Hence, rape is also a contest among men,” sociologist Sanjay Srivastava told DW.