I want to say her name, force to look us within

  • Edited out version is in bold.

Oct 18, 2020

I want to say her name, the name that will force us to stare into our hollow eyes when we find some time to check on ourselves at least once a day in the mirror.

There is a script that goes with the rape of Dalit women. She is desired, then taunted, abducted, raped, brutally murdered. Her lifeless body is thrown in the village for the Dalit settlement to mutely accept the tragedy. If one in many thousand cases draws world attention, then it is stated that the woman was having an illicit affair. This type of character assassination of the raped and mutilated body is a template of the Hindu Rashtra — a la Brahmin republic. It happened during Khairlanji wherein the courageous Dalit woman, who was asserting her rights and fighting to reclaim them, was gangraped by the landowning dominant castes with the approval of caste Hindu villagers. Later, when the case received media attention, the caste Hindu lobby worked full-time by utilising its caste networks to shield the perpetrators. In this case, the rapists belonged to the Kunbi Maratha caste. The government in Maharashtra was run by the Congress.

This happened in the Bhanwari Devi case too, and it is now happening in Hathras.

In India, the Hathras atrocity proves yet again that caste solidarity is firmer than anything else. Instead of standing by the slain woman and her family, the women from the Thakur caste chose conspicuous silence and shifted the blame on the victim. This proves, once again, that caste has more returns for the dominant castes than their immediate identity as a woman.

In an audacious act, the Brahmin and Thakur groups ganged up in solidarity with the rapists. Nowhere in the world have such village councils stood by the alleged rapists so firmly, with police shielding them.

This is India for you — one commits a crime and yet gets a rousing support for its heinous act. Such people are non-believers of the Constitution, traitors to the Indian Republic.

Zamindari and bonded labour are abolished. Yet, the unofficial zamindari continues, and it is crueler because one cannot easily identify this system — since it’s outlawed, perpetrators have found ways around it.

To stop the crimes against Dalits and rapes against women, we need to disarm the perpetrators. What encourages one to commit the gruesome act without remorse? It is the assurance of impunity. The person committing rape knows that he will be released and honored in caste councils, even elevated to an elected seat.

The entire structure, institutions and state machinery stand by the perpetrator who belongs to their caste. This happened in Khairlanji, it is happening now in Hathras, and in many unreported incidents that can be found in almost all Dalit autobiographies.

Land relations make Dalits perpetually dependent on caste Hindus for their survival. To tackle this problem, we need to flatten the relation of dependency. The Dalits in villages are forced to rely on their rapists and murderers to give jobs. How do we then expect to establish rule of law in these extremely unequal relations? The person controlling the labour of his peasants will exercise all the energies to keep his slaves permanently locked to the land.

Slavery is abolished in India but slavery to the dominant caste is not. It is regulated by the caste society and enforced with the complicity of the state administration, police, and media.

Dalits need separate settlement — drawing from Ambedkar’s proposal — for them to not only have access to the land but also to have an autonomous space to develop their economy, establish industries and develop new wealth. Dalits need safe space which is not in proximity with their oppressor. How can anyone live with serial rapists after knowing their crimes go unpunished? Dalits need to be evacuated from these death chambers because, let’s face it even though we are constitutionally bonded nation, our loyalties to it falter depending upon the direction of wind. In a village where water resources for Dalits are poisoned with chemicals and a social boycott is maintained for years, what good would any human expect from such suffocating, humiliating place — the Indian village?

Finally, to liberate people we need to strengthen their guts and provide confidence to fight back. No person in the world would ever tolerate rape of their mother or sister, or humiliation of their elders. It is just a matter of time for an oppressed to exact revenge and if given an opportunity, s/he will remove the gizzards of the rapists. World over, India included we arm ourselves to establish our right. We need to invoke the Prevention of Atrocities Act Rules, 1995, Sec 3 (i-v). State has time and again proven unfit to protect poor Dalit’s lives.

To prove its credibility, the state should declare Dalits protected species. They should make an act that is anti-Dalit an act against the state, those held responsible for atrocities should be slapped with anti-terrorist laws. Until these steps are taken, India’s Dalits will have no faith in the state.

This is a conversion month and I have been thinking about its growing importance in our lives. Ambedkar’s Buddha is not meek and neither Brahminical who’ll oversee violence while closing his eyes wishing that it’ll somehow disappear like an unimaginative infant. Ambedkar’s Buddha doesn’t warrant violence, and neither is he immune to injustice. A peaceful coexistence is what Dalits warrant best spoken through their last spokesperson — Ambedkar. And Ambedkar spoke of enlightened and enlightening Buddha who is a social justice leader.

Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters, curates the fortnightly ‘Dalitality’ column


Author ‘Caste Matters’, co-editor ‘The Radical in Ambedkar’ | Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School | Associate, African & African American Studies, Harvard.