An abandoned cycle lies by the roadside of Pulveli in Kariapattinam, a few tens of metres away from the Kariapattinam police station in Vedaranyam.
The cycle belonged to Gayathri, 19, until November 2013. The Dalit girl, a graduate student of a local college, was riding her way back, when her cycle was blocked in broad daylight by a caste Hindu man. Muruganantham ripped off her clothes and publicly assaulted her, inflicting grievous injuries on her.
After Gayathri was treated for six days at the Vedaranyam government hospital, and local pressure, the Kariapattinam police registered a case and arrested Muruganantham. However, the cycle that had found a mention in the FIR remains unclaimed by the roadside even today.
In mid-April, Revathi, 28, of Vedaranyam staged a hunger protest outside the DIG office at Thanjavur. This was after the Dalit woman, a qualified teacher, ran from pillar to post to have a complaint registered against a caste Hindu man for abandoning her pregnant, after a five-year relationship on the promise of marriage.
Revathi’s was an unequal struggle against the accused Pandiarajan, who was related to AIADMK functionaries of Vedaranyam.
“On April 8, I went to the All Women’s Police Station at Vedaranyam. There, the police turned me away, saying it involved a “law and order problem” and I should go to the Vaimedu police station. At the Vaimedu station, I was told that the police were busy with election duties and asked to come back after three days.” When Revathi went back to the station after three days, she was faced with an entourage of caste Hindus, who had the backing of the AIADMK, seeking a compromise.
“The Vedaranyam DSP told me that the accused was ready to pay me money and I should give up [the fight]. I was shocked when he advised, enam enathoda dhan seranum,” says Revathi. This was when Revathi decided to go to the DIG’s office to stage a protest to force the local police to registere an FIR.
Finally, when a case was registered for rape under Section 376 of the IPC, and under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Pandiarajan was declared absconding even as he was seen in the village. “I went to the police station again to tell them that the accused is in the village. But, they waited for over a month till he got anticipatory bail,” says Revathi.
Revathi’s is a lone case of grit, says Birla Thangaduri, a member of the district committee for monitoring bonded labour. There are several instances of rape and abandonment such as this, but Dalit women are not encouraged to file a complaint because of police attitude. “The first advice the police give the victim is to compromise as it is an unequal fight,” says Thangadurai, who took up Revathi’s fight.
Revathi petitioned the higher-ups in the Education Department for disciplinary action against the accused, who continues to work as a teacher in the Panchayat Middle School here.
Unless caste hegemony assumes the violent tone of rape and murder, the travails of the survivors of other forms of caste-based gender violence go unrecorded.
Says Kathir, Director of Evidence, a Madurai-based human rights organisation: “There is response only when it involves violent rape and murder. But these acts of abandonment and desertion legitimised by caste hegemony are never factored in.”
In 2012, when the PMK whipped up a discourse of “Dalit men laying love traps” for caste Hindu women, what went unrecorded was the scores of invisible Dalit women in rural areas, abandoned by caste Hindu men who promised them marriage, yet could not have their case heard.
‘When a Dalit boy and a caste Hindu girl elope, the police harass the boy’s entire kin. But when a Dalit girl is abducted or raped or cheated by a caste Hindu, it is a struggle to even have her complaint heard in police station,” says Thangadurai.
“Unless criminal cases are booked against the police and doctors for refusal to go by the law in the cases of sexual assault as per the Verma Committee’s report, no strong law can make any difference,” says Kathir.
(The names of the survivors have been changed.)