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Caste Crimes

It's easy to look at the pictures of the two girls raped in UP, harder to do anything about it

The gruesome picture of two Dalit girls raped, killed and left hanging on a tree in Badaun in Uttar Pradesh has triggered a debate on social media. But will it lead to justice, not just in this case but in the countless cases of sexual assault on Dalit women?

They were cousins, aged 14 and 15. With no toilet at home, the Dalit girls had reportedly stepped out to answer nature's call on Tuesday evening. When they did not return home, their family went to the police station but policemen refused to investigate the case. Next morning, the bodies of the girls were found hanging from a mango tree. A postmortem confirmed that the girls had been sexually assaulted, reported the Hindustan Times. 

TV news channels showed video footage of the bodies swinging from the tree surrounded by a gathering of villagers that included young children.

While the TV channels mosaiced the footage before using it, an unedited photograph made its way to social media, triggering a debate on the ethics, law, justice and voyeurism.

The debate over the pictures will probably die down soon, as will the outrage over the rape and murder of the two Dalit girls.

If the conviction rate for cases of sexual assault is low, the rate for convictions in cases involving  Dalit women is arguably even lower.

In 2010, of the 14,263 cases of rape that were decided, the accused was convicted in 3,788 cases, or 26.6%, reported the Wall Street Journal.

In comparison, a study done by the Centre for Dalit Rights on 50 cases of sexual assault on Dalit women in Rajasthan found that the conviction rate in the cases was less than 2%, The Times of India reported.

In 2012, The Hindu reported on the findings of a study done by the Gujarat-based non-governmental organisation Navsarjan, which sourced and analysed data on 379 cases of violence against Dalit women by non-Dalits in the state of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Of the 379 cases, the outcome of only 101 cases was known. Only three cases had resulted in convictions. The conviction rate came to a measly 0.79 per cent.

While the Badaun case has drawn greater attention in the media, several other cases of sexual assault on Dalit girls have been reported in the news this year.

In March, four Dalit girls were raped in Bhagana village in Haryana. About 90 families sat on protest for several weeks in Delhi to protest against police and government inaction.

In January, a 14-year-old Dalit girl was raped in a village in Punjab while she was headed to school. When her parents sat on protest outside the office of the police inspector-general to demand the arrest of the accused, the police reportedly picked up the parents.

Unequal by both gender and caste, Dalit women face the worst kind of violence in India. As this report, prepared on the basis of interviews with 500 Dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Uttar Pradesh, notes:

"The majority of Dalit women have faced violence in public spaces – streets, women’s toilet areas, bus stands, fields, etc. – in and around their villages and towns. The open or public nature of violence committed against them indicates both their specific vulnerability outside of the home, as well as the element of combined individual and collective community punishment meted out through particularly public physical assaults and verbal abuse. Many Dalit women in the study pointed out the perceived additional humiliation of public violence they face from dominant castes, as compared to the generally more private nature of violence committed against dominant caste women."
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Image Credit: Volkswagen
Image Credit: Volkswagen

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