Crime & Justice

Rape used as a tool to assert caste supremacy in rural India

By Moncho Torres

Hathras, India, Apr 14 (EFE).- In a rural India dominated by the Hindu caste system, those from higher castes forcibly maintain their hold on power, often using rape of untouchable or Dalit women as one of the tools to assert their control and supremacy over them.

In 2020, 3,396 cases of rape of untouchable women – members of the lowest rung in the caste system – were recorded in India, representing an average of some dozen sexual abuses everyday, according to the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

However, the nonprofit Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDN) recently said in its report “Caste Based Sexual Violence and State Impunity” that these numbers represent only the tip of the iceberg, as pressure from the higher castes and often the Police itself prevents many victims from reporting rape.

“Caste-based sexual violence is perpetuated against Dalit women and girls in a typical and particularly violent form by men from dominant groups to assert power,” DHRDN said in its report.

“The social power accumulated by dominant caste groups is based on control over land, property and other economic assets, which in turn is interwoven with political, legal and administrative power through networks of kinship and influence. This makes de caste system extremely resilient and resistant to change,” the report observed.

Academic Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman of the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS), also underlines told EFE that these rapes are an “extreme form of this attitude” toward Dalits women, whom they treat as “inferior”, having “its origin in the caste system and the institution of untouchability”.

The ancient Hindu caste system divides society into four major groups by birth, in order of purity: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaisyas (traders) and Sudras (servants), which in turn are subdivided into hundreds of subcastes.

At the bottom of the hierarchy are the untouchables, considered impure and who perform the most menial tasks, such as the manual collection of feces.

According to the 2011 census, there are 166 million Dalits in India, accounting for 16.2 percent of the population.

Led by untouchables’ leader Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, whose birth anniversary was observed on Thursday, India banned caste discrimination in its 1950 Constitution and promoted positive discrimination favoring those from the lowest strata.

However, the marginalization of Dalits has continued.

The rape case that received the most public attention in recent years was in September 2020 in the village of Hathras, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where a young Dalit woman was allegedly gang raped by high-caste neighbors, and succumbed to her injuries days later.

The victim’s elder brother – who by law cannot be identified – spoke to EFE of their ordeal in the yard in front of his house, which is now a fortress, with 15 security personnel stationed to protect them from reprisals by the families of the four imprisoned aggressors.

“Soldiers have been here since November 2020 because the situation was very dangerous. We felt that they could enter our house at any time and kill us. The Supreme Court ordered our safety,” explained the young man, recalling how they were threatened “openly,” with phone calls and messages.

The 30-year-old man, strong and wide-necked, narrated how on the morning of Sep.14 two years ago he went with his mother and sister to the field to collect fodder for the animals.

He moved ahead with the fodder leaving the others behind and was alerted a little later that “something” had happened.

The assailants had dragged his sister amid the millet plants, which were very tall during that time of year.

“My mother found her nude. When I arrived, my mother had dressed her and laid her down outside the farm. She was semi-conscious, covered in blood,” he said.

“When I went and tried to lift her, she was completely paralyzed. She had marks in her neck. She must have been pulled and dragged with the dupatta – a traditional scarf – she was wearing,” he added.

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