News / Asia

Gang Rape Highlights India's Caste Problem

Members of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) shout slogans during a protest against the gang rape of two teenage girls, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 31, 2014.
Members of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) shout slogans during a protest against the gang rape of two teenage girls, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 31, 2014.
Anjana Pasricha
The rape and murder of two young girls in northern India has highlighted the sexual oppression of low caste women in the country, particularly in its vast rural areas.  The case also demonstrates the serious risks faced by women living in homes without indoor plumbing, which was a campaign issue for the country’s new government.
 
The grisly images of two 14 and 15 year old cousins hanging from a tree in Buduan district of India's Uttar Pradesh state, after they were gang raped and strangled last week sent shock waves through the nation.
 
But a retired police official in the state, S.R. Darapuri, was not surprised at the horrific crime, which targeted teenage girls from a low caste family of farm laborers.  That is because during his 32-year-stint in the poor and backward state, he has witnessed first-hand many such incidents of exploitation of “dalit” community, members of India's lowest caste.
 
“The higher castes they have been exploiting the women of the dalits and the weaker section just as a matter of right.  And sometimes rape is used as a weapon to suppress these sections of society," said Darapuri. "And these sections they are not able to resort to self defense.  The main reason is that they are dependent on the land owning caste and as such they are very vulnerable.”  
 
Victims from low caste

Darapuri, is now an activist working with the Indian human rights group People’s Union for Civil Liberties.  He says his analysis of rape cases in Uttar Pradesh in 2007 showed 85 percent of the victims were low caste, minor girls.   
 
Four of the five men arrested for the crime belong to the politically powerful Yadav community.  They include three brothers who have been charged with rape and murder, and two police officials for attempting to cover up the crime.  The Yadavs are also designated as a backward caste, but are much higher than dalits in the complex caste hierarchy of Hindus.
 
Faced with outrage, India’s new government is resolving to act quickly.  Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, has pledged to set up a national helpline for women and rape crisis centers.  
 
“There is nothing that any ministry or any government can do to prevent people from being violent to each other except give them strong protection and give strong deterrence," said Gandhi. "It is the aim of this government to provide deterrence and protection and we will do that as effectively as we can.”
 
But activists like Darapuri question where such protection will come from.  The latest incident exposes police indifference to the plight of lower castes.  

Police indifference

When the father of one of the victims went to seek police help for the missing girls, he was questioned about his caste.  He says he was abused.  Police did not register the complaint until the next day when angry villagers held protests under the tree where the girls had been hanged.  
 
Darapuri says radical efforts are needed to alter the mindset of those in charge of law and order.  He says police refusal to register criminal complaints from low caste people is common, especially in rural areas.
 
“I have seen all such malpractices of police and anti-common man attitude of police.  I have seen it very closely," said Darapuri. "The police in India is also very much a replica of the society.  The police organization has a culture which suffers from caste prejudices.  Not only in this case, but almost in every case, it is mostly caste-based.  Unless there is a major effort to change the set up and change the attitude of the bureaucracy, their actions are highly influenced by caste and other such considerations.”

The focus is also turning to the state's highest officials.  When questioned about the gang rape, Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav told a reporter, “you have not been harmed, have you?”  Some months ago his father, former chief minister Mulayam Yadav, opposed the death penalty for gang rape, saying “boys will be boys.”
 
Law and order is particularly poor in Uttar Pradesh.  In recent days, the media has reported at least four more brutal cases of rape in India's northern and most populous state.  
 
The gang rape of a 23-year-old student in the Indian capital in December 2012 first put the spotlight on the prevalence of sexual violence in India.  Laws were tightened following public outrage.  But as the latest case reveals, the problem is more complex.
 
The sanitation issue


The two cousins found hanging from the tree were kidnapped when they had gone out into the fields to relieve themselves.  Like three-quarters of rural homes in Uttar Pradesh, their house lacked a toilet.  
 
Bindeshwar Pathak heads a non-governmental group called Sulabh, which has pledged to build 100 toilets in the village.  He says the lack of sanitation routinely exposes women to risks, including harassment and assault.
 
“The problem for them to go outside for defecation, they can go only in darkness, either before sunrise or after sunset," said Pathak. "So women are vulnerable to such types of problems and rape, many cases are reported from different parts of the country.”  
 
The gang rape and deaths of the young cousins is an early wake-up call for India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power on the promise of development.   He has pledged to bring sanitation to every home, saying “toilets first, temples later.”
 
Minister Gandhi says building toilets is a top priority of the government.  It is not an easy task.  Approximately half the country - about 620 million people, do not live in homes with indoor plumbing.  A majority of them are in rural areas.  
 
And even when they are built in Buduan, the mother of one of the girls who was killed tearfully says it will be too late for her daughter and her niece.

You May Like

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows Fight to Death With IS

In wide-ranging interview, Fuad Masum describes new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: S.R.Darapuri from: Lucknow, India
June 04, 2014 1:42 PM
A very good analysis of the complex problem of rape and caste relation. Actually, Indian society is badly caste ridden and caste bias is reflected in the working of all organs of the society and the government. The higher castes enjoy power over Dalits and other weaker sections of society. As such they are in a position to exploit them and resort to suppression if opposed.

The vulnerability of these sections of society is further aggravated by their total dependence on higher castes as they lack land and other means of production. Hence to salvage them from this condition it is necessary to empower them through distribution of land and giving them alternate employment.

by: Andrew Khiem Nguyen from: USA
June 03, 2014 12:59 PM
The Indians must courageously mention and tackle the root problem, not just wandering around and around. The root problem is the caste hierarchy of Hindus.
India should have no castes or whatsoever, unless It is not a proudly democratic country with all modern technologies.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs