The Hathras Case: Let me begin with an analogy that will help you grasp the crux of this article better:
In a field, there are different kinds of plants. Some of them are attacked by pests, while some have weeds growing around them, absorbing their means to a fuller life. Now, naturally, there exists a group of plants that are exposed to both these dangers, which can affect their existence and function. On one hand, they face the problem of pests that eat up their body. On the other, they have weeds growing around them, absorbing the little water and nutrients that are available. Now, how do we assure the protection of the plant or its functioning on an equal footing with all the other plants in the field? Solving just one problem would be inadequate. This is the question put forth by instances of double oppression, where one problem cannot be given importance over the other.
In a country like India, oppression does not function in just one way. We have so many facets to discrimination, and often these different facets act together as layers and provide the function of oppression.
The Women’s Rights movement came hand-in-hand with abolitionism and anti-slavery movements. But the question that cropped up during that period was this: Which movement deserved more attention and immediate action?
Now, I urge you to ask the same question in the Indian context, in relation to the incident that has garnered national attention over the past few days. Of course, I am pointing to the rape of the 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh.
The victim in the Hathras case had suffered what is called double oppression. She is a woman. She is a Dalit.
Firstly, she faced oppression on account of being a woman. Patriarchy has ruled over India for a very long time. It would be grossly unjust to assume that women are the only recipients of the problems posed by patriarchy. Such a hierarchy imprisons the life and expression of not just women, but people who identify with any gender or sexual orientation. But, it becomes imperative to discuss the case of women here, as we are considering the mechanism of oppression faced by the victim of this particular crime.
Even in the 21st century, there exist people who justify rape, by acquitting the predator and condemning the prey. There exist people even in the higher strata of the so-called ‘educated class’, who vilify the victims with degrading analogies such as “It takes two hands to clap”. In schools, we often see self-defence classes provided for girls, but rarely do we see classes that can help boys be more sensitised to the environment around them. We actively participate in limiting the victim, while the perpetrators are let loose. This is where the victim of the Hathras incident was discriminated against once.
The second discrimination that the woman faced was on account of her being a Dalit. Before delving into this discussion, let me apologise for any mistake that might surface in this article henceforth, as I understand that I write from the plush cushions of privilege, even though I identify as an anti-caste ally.
How much ever you speak against the existence of caste-based discrimination, the reality always prevails and sadly continues to prove otherwise. Now, when I take instances from the incident in question to support my argument, I am forced to use the word ‘alleged’ in many places. This, by itself, is an indicator of the caste discrimination faced by the victim (even after her death) and her family from the authorities, as transparency is almost non-existent here.
It is alleged that when the Hathras’s family took her to the police station first, and their pleas were discarded, along with comments from the officers to stop their ‘drama’.
It is alleged that the victim’s family’s phones were confiscated and that some members were even assaulted by the authorities in an attempt to control them and prevent them from reaching out.
It is alleged that the District Magistrate of Hathras threatened the family by saying that “the media will go, we’ll remain”.
It is alleged that a boy from the victim’s family jumped the wall and ran towards media representatives to report the atrocities that the family continues to face from the authorities.
It is alleged that the forensic report suggested that no sperm was found to prove the occurrence of rape; though the analysis was done 11 days after the incident. It is interesting to note that under the Indian Evidence Act, the victim’s declaration, while alive, should have served as enough evidence to prove that she was raped. The ‘report’ should also not be used as an instrument to discredit the other atrocities committed against the victim, as the public is well aware of the sort of inhuman treatment that was meted out to her by the perpetrators.
Further allegations also suggest how the victim was denied healthcare at the right time, and how the procedure of registering the case was delayed more than once.
The victim’s body was burned by the Police without the consent from the family, all of a sudden. This was the destruction of evidence and removes the possibility to counter what is stated in the report. Add to this the imposition of Section 144 in Hathras, the hostility shown towards opposition leaders, the ban on media entry, and the support shown by a section of the public towards the accused in the case, all of whom belong to the upper caste (Thakur).
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This is where she was discriminated against the second time.
The essence of her existence in both manners served to her disadvantage. This occurred because of a system that fails to question and eradicate this disadvantage. Therefore, it becomes crucial, at least when incidents like this occur, to sensitise the public against such double oppressions so that some consensus can be formed, which can lead to movements that protect the vulnerable.
The absolute minimum that can be done is the recognition of this suppression, as we often witness fiery debates on how caste is no longer a problem in India – a statement that is far rooted in negligence than reality. I urge you, the reader, to take that first step today – towards the side of reality, the side of protecting the vulnerable, the side of justice.