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No social barriers to rape

As an Indian woman in the UK, I was shocked to read in today’s Metro that nearly 99 out of 100 sexual offences go unpunished in the UK.

That’s right, in the UK – not in some poor southern country with millions of disempowered women. A country with supportive legislation, and state-financed support systems still cannot protect its women and children.

What hope then do Indian women have?

The recent incident involving the rape, torture and death of a young medical student is a case in point.

She was a young, educated, upper-middle-class, upper-caste girl who was returning home after a movie and some shopping in one of Delhi’s malls. The gang rape and torture happened on a public bus.

In India, caste is always a key factor in how people are treated. In this case, the six accused men are from a wide variety of castes including Sharma (Brahmin), Vysya (trader caste) and potentially two Dalit men (lower caste)  and one Muslim young man – yes, a truly ‘united Indian front’. I really cannot remember the last time such public, inter-caste cooperation occurred!

India is in an uproar over this. The government and legislature are falling over themselves in setting up special courts, legal processes are happening  at speeds never seen before in India, instituting policy processes to make India continue to seem benign, safe and shining to the rest of the world – but we Indian women know better.

What hope then do Dalit women have?

The targeted rape of Dalit women in India is such an ordinary and mundane aspect of India’s social fabric that the media doesn’t even bother to report them.

Just three months before the Delhi incident, a 16-year-old Dalit girl in Haryana was gang raped for three hours by eight drunken, upper-caste men – the only time ‘untouchables become touchable’.

The men filmed the incident on their phones and showed it to the girl’s father, who then committed suicide. None of the men have been prosecuted.

Before his suicide, the father registered the rape with the police in an attempt to get some justice for his daughter. This was just one in an epidemic of rapes in Haryana, with many victims being children younger than 16 and almost all of them being Dalit girls.

As an Indian woman, I’m glad that the issue of rape has been brought to the forefront and the state is finally being forced and shamed into putting safeguards in place for women.

However, as a Dalit activist, I’m angry that a caste-entrenched state will not respond to the routine rape, torture and killing of Dalit women and girls.

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