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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs