Data and research show how Dalit women are doubly marginalised subjected to a patriarchal set up at home and caste prejudice in society
“Would you like to compromise?” That’s the first question a judge asks when a caste atrocity case comes up for trial, says Manjula Pradeep, of the Gujarat-based non governmental organisation Navsarjan. A study done by Navsarjan on atrocity data obtained through RTI for Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu found that between December 2004 and November 2009, “there were convictions in only 0.79 per cent of cases (three cases) of violence by non-Dalits across the three states. In Gujarat there were no convictions at all.”
The worst sufferers of a systemic failure to probe caste crimes are Dalit women. They are known to face double discrimination; they become the target for upper caste men outside homes and gender-based violence at home.
In a submission to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Navsarjan states, “Dalit women are considered as easily available for all forms of violence…The Indian justice system cannot serve as a deterrent for crime when there is no consequence for the perpetrators of violence against Dalit women.”
According to the organisation’s study there were 379 cases of violence against Dalit women by non-Dalits between December 2004 and November 2009 across the three states. However, the outcome of only 101 cases (26.6 per cent) was known to have been decided when the data was analysed in the beginning of 2011.
In the three state -- Five Dalit women were murdered by non-Dalits (three in Tamil Nadu and one each in Gujarat and Maharashtra). There were 76 reported cases of rape or gang rape (20 in Gujarat, 35 in Maharashtra, 21 in Tamil Nadu). On the other hand violence on Dalit women by the community itself (including family) saw 15 women being murdered in the three states (eight Tamil Nadu, four Gujarat, three Maharashtra), and 37 cases of rape or gang rape (19 Tamil Nadu, 12 Gujarat, 6 Maharashtra) were reported.
A total of 117 cases (30.9 per cent) remained pending in the courts and the status of 161 cases (42.5 per cent) was unknown. The cases where no information is available are likely to be undecided, the study noted. Navsarjan points out that the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women noted, “Dalit women face targeted violence even rape and murder by the state actors and powerful members of dominant castes used to inflict political lessons and crush dissent with the community.”
At a recent seminar held at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), activists and academics raised concerns over state complicity as a major hurdle in seeking justice under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “The Act has completed 20 years, but people, even lawyers still don’t know about it. It is not part of the university curriculum,” Manjula Pradeep says.
She points out that Dalits were moving to the cities to “escape” atrocity and “the identity of being an untouchable.” While fighting caste violence and discrimination, the attitude of the government, police and the judiciary poses a formidable challenge.
Eknath Avhad, Dalit activist from the Marathwada region of Maharashtra blamed low political willpower for the dismal justice rate in atrocity cases. “Activists and people are ready to fight,” he says, “but they can’t fight the politics.” The Maharashtra government’s ‘Dispute Free Village’ scheme for instance is a case in point.
A programme designed to work out compromises, almost imparts impunity to caste and other kinds of crimes. “It’s a licence to hooliganism. All odds are stacked against the Dalits,” Mr. Avhad said. “The police will not register cases or delay registration; if they do, they will conduct shoddy investigation. Then there is no witness protection. After 1995, the percentage of case registration was low. It dropped further after 2000.”