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Attacks on dalit women highlight persistent prejudices of society

Published: 17th July 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2016 10:57 PM   |  A+A-

After the the savage murder of an underprivileged law student, Jishamol Kuttikkattuparmbil Pappu (known as Jisha K.P) in Kerala, the news of the ragging incident, where a 19-year-old Dalit girl from Kerala was forced to swallow bathroom cleaner, has saddened us all.

While 29-year-old Jisha was raped, stabbed, strangled and bludgeoned to death, Aswathi, who was studying  to be a nurse in Al Qamar College of Nursing, Kalaburagi, Tamil Nadu, is still fighting for her life. What is notable about these incidents is that both have occurred in South India and both the girls, who came from lesser privileged class and caste, were trying to better their lives. Society and its various prejudices, however, appear to be hell bent on curbing the growth of certain marginalised sections of society.

Jisha was the second daughter of a single mother and the hovel where they lived did not offer any protection—the door was a flimsy wooden plank and the neighbours were hostile towards them.

Despite being a state with a rising literacy rate,  the incident has once again brought to light that Kerala is not safe for women, especially those belonging to marginal groups. Echoing the words of J Devika, “This is not a society that offers any kind of dignity to a woman who is alone”,  there needs to be greater sensitivity towards women trapped in a circle of deprivation, of caste, class and gender.

The Kalaburagi incident was a case of bullying gone too far, but it might be notable that the bullies were five upper-caste students. This brings to the fore again that the attitude towards Dalit students at universities is not changing, even while the police are treating the case as an attempt to murder to send out a strong message to the students and society.

As the National Commission for Women has said, “in the commission of offences against… scheduled caste (Dalit) women, the offenders try to establish their authority and humiliate the community by subjecting their women to indecent and inhuman treatment, including sexual assault, parading naked, using filthy language, etc.”

In these instances and many such in the past, violence, shaming and unequal treatment are used as social mechanisms to maintain Dalit women’s subordinate position in society. “It is the core outcome of gender-based inequalities shaped and intensified by the caste system,” says a study by Aloysius Irudayam, Jayshree P Mangubhai and Joel G Lee.

Be it a matter of land acquisition or caste war like the 2006 Khairlanji massacre in Maharashtra, where the women of the Bhotmange family belonging to a Dalit caste were murdered after they were paraded naked in front of the village, women of caste are always the soft targets.

According to a survey conducted by India Resists campaign on the selective outrage against rape and murder of women, there are over 101 cases of sexual violence against Dalit women that have failed to generate any outrage in the news after the Nirbhaya rape case.

The mysterious death of an Ola woman taxi driver, which is currently being dubbed as ‘suicide’, also throws a shadow of doubt on the justice process. Veerath Bharathi was one of the first few women cab drivers in Delhi who had started her career by joining Angel cabs and later moved to Uber in 2013.

While it is wonderful that women pilots are taking to the skies and women are entering all fields of industry and commerce, it is disheartening to see the women belonging to marginalised castes continue to lag behind.



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