Dalit Lives Matter: The Hathras Horror
(Trigger warning: the events described in the following article can be disturbing and overwhelming for some readers)
September 14, 2020; a young 19-year-old girl, raped, tortured, molested, and literally discarded, unclad in open fields, right outside her ostracized Dalit village. Her tongue was cut, her clothes torn off, her genitals exposed, she was lying in a pool of her own blood, counting her breathes.
September 30, 2020; the victim dies a day earlier at AIMMS Delhi, instead of respectfully giving away her corpse to the family, she is wrongly cremated by the police at the wee hours of the early morning, amidst the screams and whines of the family members.
Described above are the two crucial events of the brutal gangrape of a Dalit girl in Bhulgarhi village, Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. She belonged to the downtrodden Valmiki community or more popularly referred to as untouchables. The accused, namely Sandip, Ramu, Lavkush, and Ravi, all belonged to the upper caste Thakur community.
This case is a testimony of several social injustices tainted on the Indian society, atrocious crimes against women, the devastating crime of rape, victim shaming, inequalities of caste, overlooked responsibilities of the state, callous coverage, and desensitization by mainstream media and lastly, selective outrage of the privileged.
According to the latest Crimes in India Report 2019, released by National Crimes Records Bureau, 88 rapes take place every single day in India. However, the conviction rate remains a meager 27.8%, which means, out of 100 rape cases, only 28 accused get convicted, the rest walk free on the streets. Which also implies that 90% of the rape cases in India, end with an acquittal. Rajasthan tops the tally with the highest rape rate in India. More so, the crimes against women are on a continual rise, an increase of 7.3% was observed from 2018.
Statistics and numbers can be impactful, they are horrifying yet, empowering. When we view rape as a ‘women’s issue’, we confine this filthy crime in a box of stereotypes. Rape is not just a women’s issue, Rape is a National Security issue.
When nearly half of the binary gender population of a county is threatened and put victims of horrible crimes, we cannot expect equitable progress or development of that country. The Hathras gang rape case and every other rape case that does not catch media attention is proof that the country’s holistic progress is at a disappointing low.
The Hathras case, is unique, as it is not just a rape case, but also brings forth the ugly reality of India’s caste system. The NCRB report shows crimes against SC increased by 7%, whereas crimes against ST increased by 26% in 2019. Caste is not just an age-old phenomenon seated deep in the psyche of the Indian population, but it is an abomination that veils horrible crimes.
Just as what happened in Hathras, the prominent ‘Thakurwaad’ (warrior caste) in UP has led to victim shaming while the accused are being protected. The denying, by the UP government of whether rape was committed at all, comes with no surprise, as CM Yogi Aditya Nath, coincidently is himself a Thakur.
Another important event that shocked the whole country, was the forced cremation of the victim’s corpse. The UP police and state government, elucidate “avoidance of caste fueled riots” as the reason for such an arbitrary step. However, this reason has no substance to it.
The Allahabad High Court, in its recent judgment, observed that article 21 of the constitution guarantees the right to dignity and fair treatment, not only to a living person but also to his/her body after his/her death. The denying of the fact that rape never took place, is also equally baseless.
According to the judgment, State v Arumugam Govindswamy and others (2017), the testimony of the rape victim, or the dying declaration by the victim does not need corroboration. Conviction of rape can be made solely on the basis of the testimony.
The Hathras victim, clearly stated of the alleged accused committing, ‘zabardasti’ or ‘ganda kaam’ (both of which are colloquial terms for rape). Moreover, not having found semen samples in the body of the victim is also debatable. According to Parminder alias Ladka Pola v. State of Delhi (2014), presence of semen is not necessary to constitute rape, neither is complete penetration with rupture of hymen necessary. Partial penetration or attempt to penetration is enough to constitute the gruesome crime of rape.
The Justice Verma Committee, in 2013 reviewed the laws of sexual crimes and stated ‘government failure’ as the main reason of an annual increase in these crimes. Of the two-volume large recommendation report, some highlight recommendations include the following:
1) It does not recommend the death penalty for rape. It suggests rigorous imprisonment(RI) for 7 years and RI of not less than 20 years for gang rape.
2) It suggests that every complaint must be registered as soon as possible. Any police officer who refuses to register the complaint or attempts to abort the investigation must be punished.
3) It suggests an amendment in the criminal procedure code and recommends a special procedure to protect persons with disabilities, from rape.
4) It recommends the identification of rape against men, homosexuals, transgenders, and transsexuals.
5) It suggests a separate bill of rights for women, guaranteeing them dignity and security with complete sexual autonomy.
Lastly, I cannot help but mention the selective outrage of the media and the public. Why is it that only a handful of rape cases find mention in the popular, primetime media reports? Why is it that only these handful cases compel us to pose questions to the state and make it introspect its criminal machinery? Rapes are committed every day, we need to ask more questions, file more PILs, and put more public pressure. For this gruesome crime to stop, change is required.