What kind of administration treats the body of a victim of gangrape and her family with such disdain that the mother is denied a last look at her daughter’s face, driving off with it and cremating it at 2 AM with no family members present, as happened with the girl from Hathras?
Answer: An administration that runs not on constitutional principles or rule of law, but on the ancient Manu Dharmashastras, a system which addresses crime based on the caste identity of the perpetrator expiation “for killing a sudra is one-sixteenth that of a Brahmana; for that of a kshatriya, one fourth, one
eighth for that of a Vaiysiya.”
Thus the life of a human being varies with their position in the caste hierarchy. Women are only objects who fulfil domestic, ritual and reproductive roles in a patriarchal family. The untouchables don’t even figure in the law book as they are outside the pale of the four castes. Women and Dalits are non-citizens, non-people as far as it (the Indian state) is concerned.
This is the core reason for the ever-burgeoning crimes against Dalits in India. There are plenty of laws on paper to protect them from exploitation but the crimes continue. Because the society – meaning everyone from the village resident to the policeman to the judge - doesn’t actually follow the law book even if they are constitutionally mandated to. Attitudinally, they follow the law of Manu Dharmashastras.
The ruling governments in the Centre and in UP, being minions of the RSS, are wedded to these feudalistic and casteist approach from past, and policies, programmes and governance responses reflect. Their leaders were against the Constitution and assert that the Manusmriti is the law book of the country.
It is not for nothing that the BR Ambedkar, chief architect of the Indian Constitution, saw fit to burn the Manusmriti, as far back as 1927, in the context of asserting the right to water during the Mahad Satyagraha.
Caste atrocities are still quite commonplace in India, going back 50 years ago, from Keezhvenmani in Tamil Nadu, Tsundur in Andhra Pradesh, in Laxmanpur Bathe in Bihar, Kambalapalli in Karnataka, Khairlanji in Maharashtra, Unnao, and now Hathras in UP. No court has delivered full justice to the victims and survivors.
Courts across the country have failed to deliver justice in the case of Dalits especially the women because society and the state increasingly believe that Dalit women are not full citizens of this country. This attitude is reinforced in the administration, police and courts over and over.
We who work for women's rights especially Dalit women's rights come up against this attitude at every turn. Even though there are umpteen amendments and provisions in the law, in the Prevention of Atrocities (PA) Act, it is very difficult to get an FIR filed under the Act. Once it is done, the accused leave no stone unturned to intimidate, threaten or bribe the complainants. Local politicians, both from the Dalit and the non-Dalit communities, especially those from the perpetrators' network, start getting active. The media also tends to toe the mainstream line. This results in a large number of such cases being withdrawn due to "compromise". It's a crying shame that the lives and dignity of Dalit women are so easily compromised. However, if the family shows some fight, as happened in one of the two cases in Unnao, they are collectively victimised and targeted for serious violence and discrimination.
All this makes clear that even though the constitutional rights exist in the law, the government is derelict in its duty to implement it. Furthermore, state power is abused to deny dignity to Dalits even in death and their families are subjected to further trauma by dragging away the corpse of the victim without allowing a decent funeral as per their rites, as was again witnessed in Hathras. Even the body of Rohith Vemula was taken away by the police and cremated with only the mother and brother present, even though Dalits bury, not burn the bodies.
This is to prevent a memorial coming up for the dead. In the case of Bhima Koregaon, where in recent years Dalits used to gather on every 1 January to commemorate the victory of a small army comprising chiefly of Mahars (a Dalit community in Maharashtra), over a large force of the Peshwas (Brahmin rulers), over 200 years ago. It was always a peaceful commemoration, but in 2018, the 200th anniversary, there was unprovoked violence by some saffron forces, and arrests have been made of pro-people human rights and social activists, who the Pune police accuse of being Maoists...so any form of their mobilisation and legitimacy in legal or citizen terms are sought to be nipped in the bud by the Indian state.
"This is getting beyond toleration, we will see that justice is done to our daughter and sister," says Chandrashekhar Azad, who heads the Bhim Army and leader of the Azad Samaj Party, which has mobilised youths across UP and other states, mostly drawn from the Dalit community.
This not only about sexual violence against a woman, make no mistake, even if many women from privileged backgrounds say so. This is a battle for the citizenship rights of 20 percent of India's population, as especially of the women among them.
The views expressed are the author's own. Cynthia Stephen is a gender and development policy analyst and an anti caste thinker.