The Badaun and Bhagana gang rapes of minor Dalit girls come to us as stark reminders of not only the horror expected where sexual violence meets caste atrocity, but also to lay bare the nature of the state machinery that protects the accused. If caste is such a living, breathing monster in our midst today, we have to realise that it is sustained by feudal culture, violent aggression, dominant caste supremacy and patriarchy as much as it is by the police, political apparatus and a mainstream media that chooses to look away.
In the Badaun gang rape, the first report that I read suggested "the girls hanged themselves" and quoted Atul Saxena, Badaun's police chief, "The report suggests ante-mortem hanging which means the girls probably committed suicide." In our society of spectacle, the imaginative/improbable reading that the police chief gave to the ghastly scene of crime was the exact opposite of what actually happened-the girls had been alive when the nooses were tightened around their necks. We also now know that the police refused to file a "missing persons" complaint, that they denied recourse to justice to the parents of the victims, that they tried their best to shield the accused.
But the reason I draw attention to this early report is to point out the easy, offhand manner in which the police force in this country deal with violence against the marginalised, especially Dalits. Police routinely refuse to file a first information report where Dalits are murdered, and when pressed by grassroots organisations, they avoid Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code, and instead file cases under Section 174 (death under suspicious circumstances).
News from north India might be trickling into our memory only in recent days, but even 15 years ago there was a rallying cry from the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal in Tamil Nadu: In 1999-2000, 19 Dalits were killed in the Chidambaram-Vridhachalam area. Seven of these victims were women, all of whom were gang-raped, but a case of murder under Section 302 was booked only in seven instances.
It is easy to condemn sexual violence in the strongest possible terms, but we should realise that we will be making no progress at all in combating rape if we do not uproot the oppressive caste system and challenge the state structure that has entered into a powerful, parasitic relationship with caste and communal forces.
In the immediate instance of Badaun, the AIDWA fact-finding report makes it clear that all the accused are Yadavs, and that their aggression was emboldened by the recent statements made by Mulayam "Boys-make-mistakes" Singh Yadav. It is impossible to divorce the impact of caste on gendered forms of violence. Those who are sceptical about this obvious connection might do well to remember that it is this same caste monster that kills caste-Hindu girls in the name of "honour killings". The caste-Hindu male has a sense of entitlement over the bodies of caste-Hindu women (which is exclusively accessible only to the man of the corresponding caste, women who transgress this by choosing partners from outside/below their caste are routinely punished/murdered), over the bodies of Dalit men (the most ruthlessly exploited working class in the nation today), over the bodies of Dalit women (who are not only exploited as a class, but also victims of sexual violence). As rape is an act of male entitlement, it becomes a dangerous weapon of war in the hands of caste-Hindu men who use sexual humiliation and violence to sustain a system that keeps intact their supremacy.
Even those who subscribe to the twin causative factors of caste and rape culture will need convincing to believe the role of the Indian state machinery in upholding this terrorism.
Another endlessly discussed issue-at least in the Western media-is the absence of toilets, which is indeed a non-negotiable demand, but we should also be quick to call out that as urgent, pressing and calamitous as India's sanitation woes are, they are not going to be a proven deterrent to caste-fanatic, loathsome rapists who will continue to strike when they know that they will get away with no consequences for their actions. If the absence of sanitation access proves anything, it showcases state apathy and makes the case for a veritable structural genocide that is being waged against the poorest of the Indian poor.
On June 4, 100 families from Bhagana in Haryana, protesting at Jantar Mantar for the last two months against the gang rape of four minor Dalit girls by the dominant caste Jats, have been evicted by Delhi Police. Not only is justice denied, but even the moral right to register a protest is being snatched away.
It is not only in instances of rapes that Dalits have been denied justice. In a massacre in Kilvenmani in 1968 that killed 44 Dalits, the Madras High Court acquitted all the accused for lack of evidence. The Patna High Court repeated this feat in its verdict in the Bathani Tola massacre (21 Dalits killed, 1996, acquittal of all accused) and the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre (58 Dalits killed, 1997, acquittal of all accused). The latest in this hall of shame is the Tsundur massacre of 1991, where two months ago the Andhra Pradesh High Court let all the accused walk free.
When Dalits are systematically raped, slaughtered and massacred, courts fail to deliver justice and instead protect the criminals because of their caste clout and political connections. This shows the state machinery is inherently casteist. The attitude of the judiciary is similar to that of the arrogant policemen of Badaun. They are part of an entrenched system that upholds caste supremacy and the right of dominant castes to unleash terror.
We must remember that the girls of Badaun and Bhagana are not only victims of the caste system and rape culture, but also a state machinery that supports this shame, and that we have to fight all these forces that keep this disgrace alive if we no longer want to be a rape nation.