Hathras is the first case in independent India where the State has deprived the parents of a sexual abuse victim the right to respectfully cremate their child by forcefully burning the body knowing well that it is destroying crucial evidence. The right to a respectful burial has been awarded even to dreaded terrorists and those convicted in the heinous rape and murder of Nirbhaya. There is no point in asking the head of the State to apologise.
The NDA had scored a double political goal to win over Dalits by allaying apprehensions of the reinforcement of Caste rule in the guise of Hindu Rashtra and the marginalisation of the Constitution by ensuring that the first citizen is a Dalit. And thus they won most of the SC reserved seats of Parliament both in 2014 and 2019. Tragically, today India is witnessing a Caste contradiction at play, one where both the first citizen and the last, the victim of Hathras, are Dalits. With 591 Dalit MLAs and 89 Dalit Members of Parliament across India, their silence on brutal incidents of caste violence including Hathras, is definitely troubling. Is the power of political reservation hollow, as apprehended by Dr. Ambedkar?
In the case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the powers at play were hell bent to prove that it was a case of murder when all the evidence pointed to a case of suicide; whereas in Hathras, the people in power are using all the armament in their arsenal to pass a judgement without trial, decreeing that there was no rape, even when all the evidence proves otherwise. The development is worrisome as the role of the State as reformative is gradually being usurped and replaced with the role of the State as an appeaser of dominant sections of society. The hope for justice dwindles when the minds of people in power are prejudiced. The only ray of hope in the case is the suo moto intervention of the Allahabad High Court. But, honestly, it is extremely difficult to advocate faith in the law when the perception of the judiciary being judicious and neutral is dented.
We are witnessing a new model of governance when it comes to the question of Caste. The silence of the political leadership in times of social turmoil and the aggressive defense of the administration as it quells civil dissent and unrest. However, this is not the case when it comes to communal violence, where the State preferentially tilts towards its own larger constituency. This only has a message on the wall that the Nation, with the pre-dominant leadership of the civil society has to rise and assume the role of leadership to annihilate the prejudices of Caste and Gender manifested primarily through violence but conspicuously hiding the increasing social-economic and cultural divide, dismantling the idea of a Nation.
We are also witnessing a new development. The organising of the dominant castes, with the connivance of politicians in their capacity claimed as personal, to defend their members, irrespective of these members being charged with heinous crimes of rape or murder. Such attempts promote organised-communal lust as can be seen in the rising number of gang rapes including Nirbhaya and the Hathras victim. Such organisations of dominant castes draw the anger to motivate themselves from the fact that there is a silver-lined cloud emerging in the skies where people transcend caste and religious identities and come forward even at the cost of being persecuted to stand for values of equality and pluralism.
Four decades earlier I witnessed in Gujarat villages a situation where dominant caste men felt they were at liberty to enter any Dalit home and do anything they wished with Dalit women. Since there was no protest, such sexual exploitation did not appear to be counted as ‘Rape Cases’. The only difference we witness now, is that such exploitative practices have become ‘registered offences.’ It is evident that the present-day caste and gender violence is born out of irritation and jealousy as both Dalits and women have been steadily dismantling the structural wall of inequality. However, the unease is that we as society have thought less about the prevention of such crimes. To leave the question of justice to the administration and judiciary alone is tantamount to putting all eggs in a single basket.
The Manu Smriti justified the vulnerability of women and shudras as subjects. In South Africa, which has among the world’s highest rates of sexual violence, only the rape of white women was prosecuted under an apartheid system, while sexual violence against black women was accepted as a part of life. With the change in the democratic structure of governance we have the strongest legislations in place to counter such inhumanity but have we won the war over prejudice? We cannot win this war unless we focus on prevention.
Both Gandhi and Ambedkar had one thing in common; the emphasis on education as a tool for social transformation. Unfortunately, the New Education Policy is completely silent on Sex Education, a taboo, the casteist religious powers fail to deal with under their passion for Sanskar. This is particularly worrisome with the onslaught of the internet, where we are exposing our children to the image of women as subjects of sexual gratification.
With the continuous increase in caste violence: 3662 cases (1971) (526 under civil rights act and 3136 other IPC offences) to 45935 cases (2019); and increase in the cases of rape: 2487 cases (1971) to 32034 in (2019) and the failure of the State and Judiciary to prevent such crimes, we need to educate citizens from the school level onwards. With the State consciously restricting the space of voluntary organisations, the only visible road ahead to build a less violent society, is voluntarism; which has been the successful strategy of all social movements including that of the Indian Independence struggle.
(The author is an activist and the founder of Navsarjan, a grassroots Dalit organisation fighting for human rights since the 1970s) (Syndicate: The Billion Press) (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)