The intersection of caste and gender

Updated on Aug 05, 2021 07:09 PM IST

The horrific rape and murder of a nine-year-old in Delhi shows that laws aren’t enough. Dalit women confront a “triple burden” as they face caste discrimination, gender bias, and economic deprivation

Azad Samaj Party Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad at a protest against the rape and murder of a nine-year-old Dalit girl at Old Nangal Rai Village, Delhi, on Tuesday. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
Azad Samaj Party Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad at a protest against the rape and murder of a nine-year-old Dalit girl at Old Nangal Rai Village, Delhi, on Tuesday. (HT Photo)
ByHT Editorial

On Sunday, while fetching water from a crematorium cooler, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and murdered, and later, hastily cremated, in Purani Nangal village in Delhi. The same night, four men were arrested after the girl’s parents (who are ragpickers) and others from the village staged a protest. The accused were identified as Radhe Shyam, the 55-year-old priest of the crematorium, and three employees, Kuldeep Kumar, Laxmi Narayan, and Mohammad Salim. Relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, and the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act have been invoked. A judicial inquiry has been ordered. While several politicians visited the family and demanded action by home minister, Amit Shah, the Centre has not made a statement on the crime so far.

Also Read | Calls for justice mount after Dalit girl’s rape

Dalits make up roughly 20% of the national Capital’s 20 million people, and the poverty-stricken Valmikis — the victim’s caste — form about two-thirds of the SC population in the city. In the past decade, crimes against Dalits nationally have risen by 37%, while conviction rates increased by a mere 2.5% (National Crime Records Bureau, 2019). If history is any indication, this case is likely to see a slow investigation. People will question the truth of the case (as direct evidence remains slim because the victim was charred), and supporters of the accused will attempt to delink caste and sexual assault.

But make no mistake. This is a caste-based crime. In many ways, even after seven decades of pledging a democracy based on equality, fraternity, and individual rights, caste-based identities remain a crucial determinant of one’s place in society. Dalit women confront a “triple burden” as they face caste discrimination, gender bias, and economic deprivation — with the worst form of oppression being sexual assault. When a 19-year-old girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, was left to a similar fate last year, it brought to the fore a familiar pattern that follows caste atrocities against young girls. To be sure, laws have become stronger and punishment more rigid. But this has had the unintended consequence of perpetrators not just raping and assaulting young girls, but killing their victims to avoid a scandal. While there must a swift, thorough investigation and conviction in this case, the fate of India’s girls rests on a transformation in social attitudes. Without this, as the Delhi incident shows, merely having a more robust legal architecture won’t be enough to tackle violence against women and girls.

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