Contrary to urban beliefs, crimes against women in rural India, especially those from weaker sections, are on the rise
The rape of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi last December shook the nation’s conscience and prompted thousands to take to the streets. One of the questions the incident raised was whether women were more unsafe in an urban setting rather than in a rural one. Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had argued then that rapes hardly take place in rural India, where presumably there is greater adherence to social norms. The reality, however, is very different.
A recent news report quoting statistics from court data, collated by an associate professor of Delhi’s National Law University, showed that 75 per cent of India’s rape convictions were for crimes that took place in rural areas. The predominantly rural state of Madhya Pradesh, for instance, led with the highest number of rapes every year for the last two decades.
Take the mysterious deaths of three under-teen sisters in Murmadi village in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district, who went missing from school, for example. Their bodies were found dumped in a 30-feet-deep well located, just three minutes away from National Highway 6.
On a visit to the village shortly after the incident, it was appalling to see how casually the local police had handled the case. The traumatised mother of the girls sat on a cot in one corner of her in-laws’ home. When her daughters had not come back home until 6 p.m. on February 14 their grandfather went to lodge a complaint at the nearby Lakhni police station; the mother was called to the police station.
She recalled: “The police were reluctant to act on our complaint. My daughters kept to themselves. I had no idea that they were being followed. It was only on February 16 that we heard that some bodies had been found in a well, two km from our home.” Holding her head in her hands, she added mournfully, “After I lost my husband a few years ago, my daughters were my source of strength. All I want today is justice; the perpetrators must be given the harshest punishment.”
Initially, the police claimed that the girls had been raped. Later, they went back on that version. The real story, in fact, remains untold and will be a constant reminder of the inherent insecurity that marks the lives of girls in rural India.
There are similar stories across the country. Recently, a woman was raped after she alighted from a train in Bihar. Her body was later found hanging from a tree in a nearby village. Incidents of Dalit women being stripped and paraded naked occur with frightening regularity.
In mid-January, 42 relatives of rape victims from different States travelled to Delhi and assembled at Jantar Mantar for a public hearing organised by All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). Among the nine persons from Haryana whose testimonies were heard at this gathering was a farm labourer from the Sansi tribe of Kalsi village in Haryana’s Karnal. His 15-year-old daughter was abducted by two upper-caste men last August. She was later dumped near her village in a semi-conscious state. The accused threatened to kill the girl’s parents if they complained, but the mother was determined to seek justice. A few days later, the mother was found dead near a canal; she was sexually assaulted and strangulated. The accused were arrested only on September 14 and that was because of AIDWA’s intervention.
Jagmati Sangwan, national vice president of AIDWA, said: “This family is under huge stress. It has been six months but all that the family has got so far is Rs. 20,000 by way of compensation.”
Dalit girls are at the receiving end of such attacks because they are trying to empower themselves by getting enrolled in schools. Ms. Sangwan explained, “This is a very deep-rooted problem arising from patriarchy and economic dominance.”
Caste violence against women is marked in rural India. One has only to remember the case of Bhanwari Devi, from the potters’ community, who was sexually attacked by upper caste men in her village for raising her voice against child marriage. The incident took place 20 years back but she is still to get justice.
Banwari Devi, fortunately, is strong enough to pursue her case and is determined to get justice some day. The same cannot be said for the three little sisters of Murmadi village. Very soon, they will be forgotten and the well in which their tiny bodies were found will become part of a dark village tale.
(Women's Feature Service)