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A Spine-Chilling Moment for India: Will Hathras become an eye-opener?


The brutality of the Hathras rape was mind-boggling. The questions that beg asking are these: Could the behaviour of the police have been the same if the girl belonged to an upper class and caste? Would the media have maintained a dogged silence for 2 weeks if this had happened in a metropolis? And would those in power remain silent if the incident had happened in a state ruled by the Opposition?

India woke up to yet another shocking rape incident that has shaken the nation to the core in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. The 19-year-old woman died in a Delhi hospital on September 29, 2020, bringing back the nauseous visuals of the 2012 Nirbhaya case to our minds. India is not new to this heinous crime. The data shows India recording an average of 87 rape cases every day in 2019 and 4,05,861 cases of crimes against women in 2020, recording a rise of over seven percent from 2018 as per the latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. [1]

Is rape just another crime against women?

It is wrong to compare rape to other crimes against women. Rape is used as a tool for the complete dominance of one sex over the other. More often than not, it is a tool used to teach a lesson, to control and to shame the victim into silence. It is not merely a sexual act, rather a weapon used for dominating and victim shaming. Along with the shaming of the victim, it is also an act that is supposed to strike terror into the heart of the community from where the victim belongs.

The 19-year-old woman died in a Delhi hospital on September 29, 2020, bringing back the nauseous visuals of the 2012 Nirbhaya case to our minds.

In my opinion, no two heinous acts can be compared. However, the comparison with Nirbhaya does not hold well. In terms of brutality and bestiality, the two rapes might merit comparison but when it is the upper caste raping the Dalit, a whole new angle gets added to the misogynist act.

This act reminds us of the gang rape of Phoolan Devi by men from the upper caste who sought to teach the girl a lesson in servility. Being a rebel right from her childhood, Phoolan avenged herself through the gory killings at Behmai which went on to define her career as a dacoit. While the act was criminal and entirely against the law, the lower classes hailed her as a saviour. The Behmai massacre was an embarrassment for the government which was headed by one of India’s most charismatic leaders, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. [2]

Phoolan Devi had talked at length about the society she had found herself in, her unnatural marriage to a man old enough to be her father, the marital rapes that followed leading her to flee the land, and then her comeback as a dacoit out to avenge herself.

Talking about the caste divide and the poverty-related to it, Phoolan had said,

“The poor must bow down and touch the feet of the rich. The poor eat a few grains of millet while the rich feast on mangoes. The pain and the hunger in the belly of the poor produce fear and submission. I tried to submit as my father said I should, but I was unable. I was too much like my mother. There was too much anger in me.” 

Talking about her marriage she called out the patriarchy as she wrote,

“Before I was married, I thought the sound of bangles jangling on my forearms would be delightful. I looked forward to being able to wear bells around my ankles and silver necklaces around my neck, but not anymore, not since I had learned what they represented for the man who gave them. A necklace was no prettier than a piece of rope that ties a goat to a tree, depriving it of freedom.”   

(Source: India’s Bandit Queen: True Story of Phoolan Devi by Mala Sen (1995-01-09))

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On the one hand, we worship female goddesses and in a queer reverse sexism, we discriminate against our women and daughters.

Casteism Buttresses Rape

In a chilling narrative, Sumanti Sen mentions that on an average four Dalit women are raped every day. While the media is castigated for mentioning the caste of the girl, in this case, the caste defines the crime. Raping a Dalit woman emphasizes and gives credence to patriarchy and casteism – the banes of the Indian society. It is a show of power and also a chilling warning to the members of the lower classes that they dare not transgress. According to Sen, “Since ancient times, violence against Dalits, especially Dalit women, has been prevalent in society, and the echo of their pains and struggles can be heard even today.”  [4]

She lists some of the atrocities – in 2018 a Dalit girl walked into the superintendent of police’s office in the Satna district in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, carrying a six-month-old foetus wrapped in a plastic bag. She accused three upper-caste men of sexually assaulting her for several months. A similar incident came to the fore in Chhattisgarh when a priest allegedly lured a 22-year-old woman and raped her. The list is never-ending, and according to observers, rape is nothing but a tool used by upper-caste people to dominate lower-caste women, to keep them ‘under control’. [4]

Also Read: Is There a Future for Feminism?

Could the behaviour of the police been the same if the girl belonged to a higher class and caste?

Would the media have maintained a dogged silence for 2 weeks if this had happened in a metropolis?

Would those in power remain silent if the incident had happened in a state ruled by the Opposition?

The Petrifying Hathras Incident

The brutality of the Hathras rape was mind-boggling – as per reports the girl was violated, strangulated using her own dupatta, and dragged breaking her spine and cutting her tongue – all in a manner of 45 minutes as she was out cutting grass with her brother and her mother. What followed was straight out of some dystopic horror story where the girl was found by her mother and rushed to the police station by her brother. The police refused to lodge a complaint or to provide a jeep for the girl’s transfer to the hospital. She was taken to the hospital in an auto where the doctors were shocked seeing the state of her grievous injury. She was then transferred to the Safdarjung hospital in Delhi where she breathed her last on September the 29th, 2020, after putting up a spirited fight for survival for a fortnight.

To add insult to injury, her body was not handed over to her pleading mother who was not even allowed to see her daughter one last time. She was burnt in the dead of the night in spite of her family pleading and protesting against the police. The questions that beg asking are these: Could the behaviour of the police have been the same if the girl belonged to an upper class and caste? Would the media have maintained a dogged silence for 2 weeks if this had happened in a metropolis? And would those in power remain silent if the incident had happened in a state ruled by the Opposition?

Also Read: Poetry as a Tool of Dissent in Modern-Day Authoritarian Regimes

The answer to all of this is well known. This is not the first of this kind of crime nor will it be the last. Our collective power to look away will add to the shameful manner the women are treated in our country. On the one hand, we worship female goddesses and in a queer reverse sexism, we discriminate against our women and daughters. The curse deepens if they are poor, marginalized, and dispossessed.

In a telling and powerful poem titled “Rape Nation”, Meena Kandaswami [5] writes:

“In Hathras, cops barricade a raped woman’s home,
Hijack her corpse, set it afire on a murderous night,
Deaf to her mother’s howling pain. In a land where
Dalits can not rule, they can not rage, or even mourn.
This has happened before, this will happen again…
Always, always a victim blaming slut template,
A rapist-shielding-police-state, a caste-denying fourth estate.
 This has happened before, this will happen again”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

References:
  1. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/crimes-against-women-up-by-7-per-cent-in-2019-shows-national-data-2302955
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXcGEohQ2k4
  3. India’s Bandit Queen: True Story of Phoolan Devi by Mala Sen (1995-01-09)
  4. https://thelogicalindian.com/dalit-women-sexual-violence
  5. https://twitter.com/meenakandasamy/status/1311138611883134977

About the author

Dr. Nandini C Sen is a Professor at Delhi University, Delhi.


Nandini C Sen

Dr. Nandini C Sen is a Professor at Delhi University, Delhi.

12 thoughts on “A Spine-Chilling Moment for India: Will Hathras become an eye-opener?

  • 3 October 2020 at 1:25 pm
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    It’s sad to know that a country that is known as `Bharat Mata’ and is world popular for its Navratri celebrations gives shelter and protection to such heinous crimes.

    A very well written article ma’am. It was a real eye opener!!!!

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 1:34 pm
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    Indeed an eye-opener ma’am.
    Wonderful article.

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 2:37 pm
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    Dr Nandini Sen has brought to the fore the outrage that all sane citizens feel at such shameful and inhuman incidents. Are we living in the twenty-first century or are we still trapped in the feudal past? Is womankind an inanimate toy to be torn apart by unscrupulous, inhuman, cruel men? Should all women then become gun toting rebels out to avenge their dishonor and pain, given that the law is the slow juggernaut that it is?
    When will our Nation wake up?
    Dr Sudipta Ghose

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 2:39 pm
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    This article in a very honest way highlights the plight of the way our world functions. The questions that are raised are truly things that need to be thought about over and over again. A truly thought provoking piece ma’am.

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 2:52 pm
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    Thank you Dr. Ghosh. Indeed a time for voices of sanity to come together and condemn atrocities such as these.

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 2:53 pm
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    This article is definitely an eye opener, but only for those who really care about the situation or who really think that The Dalits are also human…The most challenging thing is to open their eyes, which should have been performed at the same time and speak for the Dalit tribe, but it was not done.

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 3:40 pm
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    This article makes one ponder upon so many facts, upon all the questions that have been raised. It brings forward the rage, the dissapointment that all of us citizens are having regarding these issues. Indeed an article that makes one sit and think about the present situations and what we are doing and not doing on our part. Wonderful article, ma’am.

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 5:43 pm
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    Well Written Ma’am. Indian society is rotting.

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  • 3 October 2020 at 6:44 pm
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    A very pertinent question is how can the mindset of such cruel people be changed. Without such change, there seems to be no end to these heinous crimes against women and weaker sections of society.

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 9:12 pm
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    Thank you Nandini for the plain talking…..It is shameful how the state in working against its citizens. Vested interest and the powerful are making a travesty of civilized living. The country has surely been dragged to the Stone Age….

    Reply
  • 3 October 2020 at 10:11 pm
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    You are right Sir. Change needs to start with us
    I guess.

    Reply

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