My thoughts on the abduction, gang-rape and hanging of the two teenaged girls in Badaun. Also posting an English version for those who don’t follow Hindi.
What is a greater crisis? When buffaloes of a state minister go missing from a farmhouse or when two teenage girls from a Dalit family do not return home after going to the field to relieve themselves in the middle of the night, and a distraught father pleads for help? Most readers would recall the swiftness with which the Rampur police swung into action when seven buffaloes of Azam Khan, Samajwadi Party leader and minister in the Uttar Pradesh government, were reportedly stolen from his farmhouse earlier this year. Contrast this with the slow response of the police in Badaun where a gruesome crime took place last week.
The story has sent shock waves through the nation. In a grim replay of a familiar pattern, two Dalit girls, cousins aged 14 and 15, were abducted, gang-raped and subsequently found hanging from a tree in Katra village in Badaun, UP. The teenagers may have been saved had the police acted on time. There was no toilet at home; the girls had stepped out to relieve themselves. The father of one of the girls sought police help to find them, but for hours the policemen on duty refused to investigate or even register the complaint. The next morning, the girls were found hanging from a mango tree near their houses. Autopsies indicate that both had been gang-raped and strangled.
Under pressure to act, UP’s Samajwadi Party government finally arrested five men, including two policemen. There is also talk of a “fast track” court. But the problem is the entire system, under which a policeman’s promotion depends on how few cases he registers, quite apart from the caste-based protection alleged against one of the arrested policemen.
While talking about the gruesome murder at Badaun, one must not miss the larger picture. This is not an isolated case. It is only the latest reminder of the utter vulnerability of Dalits, especially its women and girls, in India’s highly patriarchal and caste-based society even today. Despite constitutional guarantees and legislation, Dalit women continue to bear the triple burden of caste, class, and gender. The greater worry is that the political class in much of India does not see this as a serious problem. Akhilesh Yadav, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister ,wonders why journalists are so bothered about this case when their own personal safety is not compromised. Mulayam Singh, the Samajwadi Party supremo and father of the chief minister, told a recent election rally that he opposed the death penalty for rapists. “Boys will be boys… They make mistakes,” he said.
This week, Uttar Pradesh is in the dock, with reports of another gang-rape in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s own constituency Azamgarh, and the mother of a rape victim being beaten up by the father of a rape accused in the Yadav family’s pocket borough of Etawah. But the problem of atrocities against Dalits and the weakest in our society is not confined to the state.
What should be done?
Searching questions need to be asked all the time. As Namrata Daniel of All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch puts it, there is a need to focus on details. “At core, the struggle is about access to justice. The police are reluctant to register a First Information Report (FIR). In the cases when they do register a FIR, there is a reluctance to use the Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act approved in 1989 which has stringent provisions.”
Victims of atrocity under this act are entitled to compensation and benefits of several other provisions.The compensation varies between Rs.20,000 and 2 lakh. But as Daniel points out, getting the compensation is a big challenge. And without it, victims are often unable to sustain themselves and fight long, tortuous legal battles.
Lenin Raghuvanshi, a Dalit rights activist working with the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), says the government should appoint a state nodal officer and district nodal officer in conflict-prone districts to register cases which police are not heeding. Police reforms, he says, should be the top priority.
What can the rest of us do? The most important thing to realise is that such crimes are due to a culture of impunity. Those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder like the Dalits are often too scared or too powerless to protest. After initial outrage, the rest of us are too busy to care. Violence against women becomes “invisible” as public attention shifts elsewhere. This must not be allowed to happen this time. We must keep talking about Badaun and all those places where atrocities have happened and keep up the pressure