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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid