14 years ago, on September 29, 2006, a dalit woman and her four children were subjected to the most brutal atrocities in Khairlanji village of Maharastra. Surekha Bhotmange was fighting for her land rights against the dominant castes in the village. She along with her four children was dragged out of their house, paraded naked and lynched. While the mother and daughter were raped, the two boys were subjected to torture by men and women of dominant castes in the village. A month ago from today, on September 29, 2020 a 19 year old dalit woman succumbed to her injuries as she was gang raped, strangled and mutilated by the dominant caste men in her village, Bulgarhi in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh.
Many activists and writers, over the month, have drawn similarities between these two incidents of brutality. The similarities go much beyond the date and the acts of brutality to the structural caste inequalities embedded in the society, the response of the state machinery to dalit atrocities and systemic denial of justice to dalit communities in India. As we witnessed in the Hathras incident, the investigation has been botched up by the police. Despite the clear statements by the victim of sexual assault on her and identification of the accussed, the police did not file FIR about the incident. Medical examination of the victim was carried out 8 days after the incident and leading serious omissions in gathering of evidence. In addition to this, a narrative was created that no rape had occurred.
The police further became complicit in the violence against the 19 year old and her family by performing the last rites of the victim without allowing the family access to the body.
Also Read: A fact finding report by the NAPM activists recounts the state of the victim’s family as they were grappling with the death of their daughter and apathy of the system.
Fact-finding report on the Hathras gang rape incident
National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM)
Meanwhile, some stories circulated in the media alleging an affair between the victim and one of the accused. In the Khairlanji case too, the mainstream media published stories alleging an affair between the victim and her cousin. Writing for Scroll, Rahul Govind, explains what happened in the Hathras case as a larger pattern in cases of violence against dalits. Referencing Anand Teltumbde’s book Republic of Caste (2018) and other writings, he states that lapses in the investigation and misreporting in the media are not only common in cases of dalit atrocities but serve a larger purpose of weakening of the case of the proseuction.
Also Read the statements issued against lapses in the investigation and failure on the part of the police and state machinery for a quick and impartial probe into the incident
CBI Investigation into Hathras case reveals bias and erasure
All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA)
Condemn the arrest of activists demanding justice in Hathras case
Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)
It is important to view these two incidents as a part of larger incidences of violence against dalit communities in India. A report by the National Dalit Movement for Justice- National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, there is 6% increase in the atrocities against dalits between 2009-2018. Analysing the implementation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989, it states that 88.5% cases under the act the trial remains pending. It also stated that out of the total cases under POA, 20% were cases of violence against scheduled caste women.
According to latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in crimes against dalits, ranging from rape, murder, violence and land-related issues, the highest number of cases have been reported from Uttar Pradesh followed by Gujrat. Before that Hathras incident, 18 year old dalit woman was raped in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh in the month of August.
Another striking aspect of the response of the police in the Hathras incident is the crackdown on people questioning their role in the incident. Journalists, activists and politicians were denied access to the family of the victim. Around 19 FIRs have been lodged against unknown persons under various sections of IPC including sedition. This serves as a tool in the hands of the government to target any person who questions the process of investigation.
On one hand, people standing in support of the victim were being targeted or denied the permission to meet the family. On the other hand, the UP police allowed the large groups of upper caste people to mobilise in support of the perpetrators. In an article on Sabrang India, Karuna John, explains how the right wing in India has, in many instances of communal and caste based violence, supported the perpetrators. She states “The right wing track record of defending the accused, and often changing narratives of crimes and investigations, and blaming the victims, is being added to Uttar Pradesh at the moment.” Similar strategies were adopted in case of Kathua and Unnao.
Today a month after the death of the victim of Hathras case, the investigation lies in the hands of CBI and the family still awaits justice