Message from the Editorial Desk
Issue 18 | October 18, 2020
Over the past few years, news related to rape or sexual violence has stopped eliciting any shock or anger among most Indians, and everyone seems to have learnt to accept a certain degree of cruelty as normal. However, every now and then, something so appalling happens that the average Indian cannot turn a blind eye to, something that shocks the collective conscience of the entire nation. The recent incident of five men gang raping a 19 year old woman in a Hathras village is one such incident, except it is not just the savagery the men inflicted but everything that ensued thereafter that has left the country totally aghast.
The gory details of the incident, no wonder, were bone-chilling. The alleged rapists and murderers of the 19 year old broke her spine and cut her tongue. What they couldn’t break, however, was her spirit that made her live long enough to give a statement against the perpetrators. In her dying declaration, the victim inter alia revealed the names of the men who raped her. This testimony is sufficient evidence for the guilt of the perpetrators to be established. But Hathras had to be different.
It seems the rape and the killing of the woman were not awful enough that the State of Uttar Pradesh did everything in its power to deny the victim and her family the tiniest shred of dignity they were entitled to. Appalling as it came to everyone, the Hathras Police cremated the body of the victim in the dead of the night, even as the family beseeched the Police to see their daughter one last time. Prior thereto, the Police suggested that no rape happened at all, since no semen was found in the victim’s body. Clearly, the Police did not know the 2013 amendment that has made clear that not only the male genitalia but any object so inserted in a woman’s body amounts to rape. Read again, the Police did not know this, again, THE POLICE.
Among other things, the District Magistrate’s threatening the family, the statement of a BJP MLA saying parents should teach good values to their daughters to stop rapes, the leaking of the survivor’s video by BJP IT Cell Head Amit Malviya, the leaking of the telephonic conversation between an India Today reporter and the survivor’s family, the absolute complacency toward protest by the families of the accused and others belonging to the upper caste stone throw away from the grieving family- all of it, every single one of these things ensued the death of the victim, and each of it was defended, either by words or by (in)action.
It is also a tragedy of our times that decades after some upper caste men raped Bhanwari Devi, a Dalit woman in Rajasthan whose battle gave us the Vishakha guidelines (in a case that stemmed from the original case), when another Dalit woman was raped, people echoed the exact same thing, “upper caste men would not even touch a Dalit, let alone raping her”. Despite such madness, there are questions as to why it is emphasised that the woman was a Dalit. The uncomfortable reality a lot of us have failed to acknowledge is that caste is a factor in sexual violence, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, for it is the hegemony of some castes that renders in them a sense of power and entitlement to do as they wish. Besides, on many occasions, the stories of women belonging to the lower castes often go unheard and unheeded.
This systemic collective denial of a woman her right to live with dignity, protection, safety and contrary support to the accused shifts India backwards by eons altogether- making India no country for women¸ and a very, very scary place to live.
Most of Bhanwari Devi’s rapists are now dead. Nearly thirty years since she was raped horrendously, she is still fighting to prove that she was in fact raped. Given her age, Bhanwari Devi may die sometime soon too. She will be ashes, like this 19-year old Dalit woman from Hathras, and together they shall beg for our attention...for the eerie silence on the part of those responsible for our safety makes me a pessimist, wondering if anything will ever change...