Rape As Weapon of Domination: The Clout of Caste And Class in India


More often than not, Arundhati Roy speaks unwelcome truths, truths that essentially do not go down well with the elite class. And hence she always gets dubbed as outspoken and is being criticized for that. She was recently in the headlines for speaking out against Indian rape culture in the back drop the gang rape at New Delhi and the mass protests that drew attention all over.

She recently noted that India lives simultaneously in several centuries. While nearly 10 Indian industrialists make it to the first 50 in the Forbes World Richest Men List, the capital of India is dubbed as ‘The Rape Capital' and is a combination of incredibly crowded, ill-smelling slums; wide modern roads and elegant villas; the extremely poor and wretched; the fabulously wealthy and super-indulgent, and yet unable to protect its women traveling in buses. Speaking to Channel 4 on the recent gang rape of a 23-year old women in a running bus in Delhi, she asks critical questions on how and why and could this case be an exceptional crime demanding widespread protests; something which was uncommon in many prior instances of violence against women mete out by the Upper Class, Police and Armed Forces.

There is no doubt, the cruelty of the gang rape in a running bus at New Delhi is brutal and the culprits should be given maximum punishment in a model way. Our thoughts and prayers must be there with the girl who had her whole life tormented within a night's bus journey.

Having said that, the present case does not stand vindictively different from the many of the rape cases registered earlier in Delhi. So what makes it a flare point for youngsters to protest at India Gate daring to defy the water cannons of Delhi police?

The incongruity of the current case is that, as Arundhati Roy puts it, it plays into the idea of ‘criminal poor' assaulting an upper middle class girl. Majority of the protesters were able to relate themselves with the victim in this case as they themselves could be found stranded at such situations in late nights at Delhi.

This is not to say that all the protesters who flocked into India Gate protesting the gang rape came in because of the victim was from the upper class. But consider this scenario; Delhi has been infamous for its crime records vis-à-vis crimes against women. According to National Crime Records Bureau, around 17.6% of the rapes cases across India in 2011 happened in the national capital and more than 4489 cases of violence against women were reported in Delhi alone in 2011. The current case being no different from most of the numbers above, what makes this stand out from the rest and warrants huge mass of people, mostly youngsters, take part in this protests?

This is a precarious situation and needs to be looked at in detail. The important question here to be asked is that why were the protesters not able to raise their voice when countless women from Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and the poor were subjected to torture, gang rape and subsequently murdered in most inhuman conditions at Delhi and elsewhere around the country? What about the cases where rape was used as a means of domination by the Upper Caste, members of Armed Forces or State police, inflicting damage to the morality of womanhood?

Why were the police and state brutality stories from the Maoist were affected areas, Kashmir , Manipur and rest of the north eastern states not moving our resilience, let alone leading us to protest at India Gate? Why were we not taking on to the streets protesting when the below state brutalities happened?

• The 1991 Kunan Poshpora incident where units of Indian Army gang raped nearly 100 Kashmiri women in a single night without any consideration of their age, marital status, pregnancy etc; the victims age ranged between 13 and 80
• The case of Iron Sharmila who has been on hunger strike for the past 12 years protesting against the draconian laws of the armed forces (AFSPA) that resulted in many abductions, brutal murders and violence against women in Manipur and other parts of northeast India
• The 2004 gang rape of Manorama Devi by Assam Rifles in Manipur
• The 2009 gang rape and subsequent murder of two Kashmiri women Neelofar Jan and Asiya Jan by CRPF personnel.

How many of the young protesters at India Gate must have heard the name Soni Sori? Soni was an Adivasi school teacher and human rights activists in Chhattisgarh who was falsely accused for acting as a courier for Maoist. She was subsequently arrested in 2011, stripped naked and tortured with electric shock at the orders of the then District Police Superintend. The torture was so cruel so that the doctors at Kolkata Medical College had to strenuously remove the stones that were forcefully inserted into her vagina and rectum by the state police.

These are just the tip of the iceberg; just a few cases that made into the media headlines. What about the countless cases that never got reported; the victim either keeping her pain within herself due to threats or fear of the perpetrator or the stigma associated with rape?

And guess what action was taken in each of these cases? Ankit Garg, the police officer who had Soni stripped naked in front of him and ordered three of his police men to sexually torture her was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry at the 2012 Republic day ceremony by India's first women President. Soni, whom Amnesty International has cited as a prisoner of conscience, still languishes in jail even after a group of 250 well known activists and intellectuals wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 30 April 2012 expressing their concern over her deteriorating condition in prison.

Rape in India is one such case where the victim will eventually turn out to be the accused. Indian judicial system has always turned a blind eye in such cases when the offenders are from the rich and elite class or when the perpetrator being the state machinery itself, and heeds a deaf ear to the victims if they are from the Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and the poor.

It has now became the norm that you can get away with any crime against the poor including rape and murder if you have the clout of money or influence over the political system. This has given a free hand for the armed forces and police to inflict any amount of brutality on women and the weak and get unscathed with that. This state fed impunity over the marginalized societies has transformed rape as a ‘state sponsored' weapon of torture and domination for the Armed and Police Forces.

Sixty five years since independence, caste and class divide still hold its clout in the Indian thought processes, though in a milder tone. The thought process around which people react to a precarious situation or crime would depend on whether you could relate to the victim in terms of your caste or social status. As the rich and elite have the laws and state machinery at their disposal, they could always get the tables turned in their favor. This further alienates the suffering of Dalits and minorities from the mainstream and deteriorates the social fabric of Indian society.

Coming to the current protests, there is legitimate reasoning for the people to protest for, but an angry young mob without an organized leadership is a dangerous proportion to ask for. They could be twisted to any form by opportunist forces to meet their personal gains.

It is not that India does not have laws to protect women, but issue is of the lack of will power and the failure of the mechanism that should enforce the same. In the case of the Dalits, Adivasis and minorities, the very own state mechanism that should enforce the law turns out to be the first in vandalizing them. The current protests may bring about certain amount of vigilance in this regard and more rigorous punishments put in place; but however stringent the laws are made, there is a sense among the marginalized people that these laws are tailor made for the upper class and will not come handy when the poor are victimized.

It is time that India should learn a lesson or two from many countries in the Middle East who consistently record the lowest crime rate against women over the years. This is not all about inflicting strict punishments against the accused; it also involves a paradigm shift in the thought process of the society. The way at which women is looked upon as a commercial commodity needs to be revoked. Unless and until there are some ground breaking moral changes around this, crimes against women and humanity are there to continue. The fruits of Indian democracy are there to be shared equally by all citizens and not at the whims and fancies of the elite class hegemony.

is a Research Analyst based in Chennai. He can be reached at [email protected]

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