A year after Hathras gangrape

The dramatic sequence of incidents once again put under the spotlight one of India’s stark realities – the striking vulnerability of Dalits, especially women, in the countryside where upper caste power permeates every interaction and forces marginalised castes to be dependent on them for survival.
Exactly one year ago, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and assaulted in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Days later, amid national outrage, her body was cremated in the dead of the night. (File Photo)
Exactly one year ago, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and assaulted in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Days later, amid national outrage, her body was cremated in the dead of the night. (File Photo)
Published on Sep 17, 2021 02:45 PM IST
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By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi

In a four-part series, starting one year to the day of the Hathras gangrape, Hindustan Times returned to the scenes of crimes against women in rural India that have shaken the country over the past three decades, launched protests, and affected the course of law, to examine what has happened since, and if the social conditions that allowed for, and perpetuated these crimes, have changed at all.

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Part 1: Hathras (2020)

Hathras rape: A year on, still living in fear, buried under social stigma

Hathras: Police personnel cremate the body of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who was gang-raped in the district last year. (HT PHOTO)
Hathras: Police personnel cremate the body of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who was gang-raped in the district last year. (HT PHOTO)

In Hathras, exactly one year ago, on September 14, 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and assaulted. Days later, amid national outrage, her body was cremated in the dead of the night.

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His phone was buzzing. It was two days after his sister, 19, allegedly raped, died, with her body being consigned to flames with the administration watching. The stream of visitors was constant, from neighbours, to politicians, to an intrusive press. Most had never stepped into his mud and brick home before. There had been no peace. He was used to the ping, almost as if it was now a dirge for his loss.

Yet, this alert was different. Ominous.

Read the story here.

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Part 2: Badaun (2014)

Badaun twin tragedy: Sanitation, dignity in tussle with poverty, customs

The tragic deaths of 14-year-old and 16-year-old girls, who were found hanging from a mango tree in an orchard seven years ago in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun, still haunts the family. (HT PHOTO)
The tragic deaths of 14-year-old and 16-year-old girls, who were found hanging from a mango tree in an orchard seven years ago in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun, still haunts the family. (HT PHOTO)

Badaun tragedy: Poverty, imbalance, sanitation — the horrors remain. The tragic deaths of 14-year-old and 16-year-old girls, who were found hanging from a mango tree in an orchard seven years ago in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun, still haunts the family.

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She wakes up at around 4.30am, before any other member of the household. She picks up a mug, adjusts the knots of her sari around her waist, and makes her way to the fields behind her house. Once she’s back, she starts her day – cooking for the six people in her family, sweeping the mud floors of her small house, cleaning the front courtyard, and laying out the charpoys for the men to sit.

Her morning ritual has remained unchanged through the decades, through a punishing pandemic, numerous village chiefs, elections, and floods that force villagers to flee every few years in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district.

She does not like going to the fields, but sums up her predicament in one word: “majboori” (helplessness).

Read the story here.

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Part 3: Kharlainji (2006)

Khairlanji episode: Caste divide cemented by brutality from 15 years ago

Khairlanji episode: Caste divide cemented by brutality from 15 years ago. (HT PHOTO)
Khairlanji episode: Caste divide cemented by brutality from 15 years ago. (HT PHOTO)

Kharlainji episode: In 2006, a group of villagers, mostly Kunbis – who consider themselves equivalent to the Marathas in western Maharashtra but are classified as OBC – attacked four members of the family of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, all Dalits. The victims were paraded naked in the village, the women sexually violated, and all four of them hacked to death. The massacre rocked the country and sparked protests by Dalit groups across the country. It was a rude reminder that despite stepping into the 21st century, caste attitudes continue to stagnate in primitivity, and Dalit people, especially women, were as vulnerable to the power of upper-caste structure as they were half a century ago. It belied the promise of modernity for India’s most marginal groups.

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In September 2006, Khairlanji was just another village in Maharashtra’s Bhandara, its 700 strong populace fairly nondescript. 150km from Nagpur, there was nothing to separate the homes in its dingy lanes from each other. Most roads were kuccha. Most houses were kuccha too.

Fifteen years later, there are signs of change. Some roads have gone from dirt to cement, some homes now have tap water. But what hasn’t changed is the distrust in the social fabric of the village, borne out of a heinous crime that sparked angry protests, brought ignominy to the village, and came to be known across the country as the “Kharlainji massacre”.

Read the story here.

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Part 4: Bhateri (1992)

Bhanwari Devi: Justice eluded her, but she stands resolute for others

Bhanwari Devi : For the last three decades, she fought a case against five local men for rape, assault and harassment. (HT PHOTO)
Bhanwari Devi : For the last three decades, she fought a case against five local men for rape, assault and harassment. (HT PHOTO)

Bhanwari Devi’s legal battle birthed India’s sexual harassment protection laws for women, and forms the backbone of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1997 Vishakha guidelines for workplaces. Yet, her case has not resulted in convictions.

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Thin and frail and in her early sixties, Bhanwari Devi sits, an orange ghunghat covering her head, her forehead furrowed. The last year has not been kind to her. As her hands sprinkle water on a buffalo calf in the courtyard of her home in the village of Bhateri in Rajasthan, she talks of her husband who died last year.

Her body is racked by diabetes, and the loss of her companion has brought the idea of mortality closer. And yet, Devi betrays no weakness, her movements quick and decisive.

For the last three decades, she has fought a case against five local men for rape, assault and harassment. Her legal battle has birthed India’s sexual harassment protection laws for women, and forms the backbone of the landmark Vishakha guidelines for workplaces laid down by the Supreme Court in 1997.

Read the story here.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021