18 August 2021
By Aroussa Hafeez
A nine year-old-girl belonging to the most oppressed Dalit community in India has been gang-raped, murdered an then forcibly cremated in capital New Delhi. The gruesome sexual crime has again brought into focus the widespread violence and caste prejudice in the Indian society against Dalit community.
According to Indian authorities, the girl had gone to fetch water from a crematorium, nearby her house in southwestern New Delhi. After the girl did not return for half an hour, the crematorium's priest, 55-year-old Radhey Shyam, called the mother, showed her the body and told her that her daughter had been electrocuted.
Her family said that when the girl did not return, they went looking for her. The mother said she saw her daughter's body on the floor of the crematorium with bruises all over. She said the priest and three other men at the crematorium told her not to call the police and threatened her.
According to Ingit Pratap Singh, a senior Delhi police official, citing a statement from the victim's mother said, "The girl was lying on a bench there, they told her mother that look, her lips are blue and her body is burnt from the lips down to the wrist." Shyam and three other crematorium employees convinced the mother to cremate the body, claiming it would be a hassle to involve the police, said Singh.
According to the police, the suspects then incinerated the girl's body against the family's wishes, without calling authorities. Four men including the crematorium’s priest, have been arrested on charges of rape and murder of the girl, police said.
The gruesome incident sparked outcry in the village and hundreds of protestors gathered on the streets in the New Delhi, demanding justice. Today, gruesome crimes against Dalit women in India are on rise. What happened in New Delhi is not an isolated incident, there are a number of other such cases which mostly go unreported. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), “widespread custodial torture and killing of Dalits, rape and sexual assault of Dalit women, and looting of Dalit property by the police are condoned, or at best ignored." The victims of Dalit communities struggle to get justice and the police more often do not register the crimes against scheduled castes under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1995. The police and other officials actively allow people of dominant caste to commit violence and atrocities against Dalits with impunity.
Caste based discrimination and violence is continuously being practiced in Indian society and Dalit community, particularly Dalit women face extreme atrocities. Dalit’s former “untouchable” community are still at the lowest level in India’s complex caste hierarchy. In 1950, national constitution of India legally abolished the practice of “untouchability” even though the burden of social disabilities on Dalit community still remains a part of Indian society. This lowest level of India’s rigid Hindu caste hierarchy is vulnerable to sexual violence and other attacks. More than 160 million people in India are considered “untouchables” and this caste system reflect them as impure or less than human beings therefore this community face complete social isolation and are segregated by caste.
According to annual Crimes in India -2019 report published by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Crime against Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) saw an increase of over 7% and 26% respectively in year 2019 compared to 2018. The crime rate registered per lakh women population is 62.4 in 2019 as compared with 58.8 in 2018. NCRB report says that India reported a total 32,033 rape cases in 2019, 11 percent were from Dalit community. According to NCRB statistics India recorded 88 rape cases every day in 2019 and every fourth rape victim is a child. According to the crime records bureau about 46,000 cases of crime were reported in 2019 against oppressed castes.
The Dalit communities in India are deprived of their basic economic, political. Social, and cultural rights. India has been ranked 131 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index 2020. Although, a number of protective measures and privileges in education and employment are granted to Dalit community under constitutional provisions but none has been implemented successfully till now. The Indian government has failed in protecting Dalits, the most socially excluded community in India. The last couple of years has seen very disturbing events in the India where hatred and divisive politics of Modi government has created more threats to the security of Dalits especially Dalit women’s and other scheduled castes and tribes.
Ironically, violence and gang rape have been systematically used as a weapon by dominating castes and landlords in India to repress Dalit women and reinforce rigid caste hierarchy, which also creates hurdles in raising their voice against injustice and exploitation. Indian government needs to eliminate this communal hatred, caste system and brutal acts of violence against women of lower castes from the country. The use of sexual abuse and other forms of violence against Dalit women is a clear evidence of widespread exploitation and discrimination against these women. However, today the extreme marginalization of Dalit population requires efforts by government to ensure their security and development and there is a need to bring sexual offenders to justice.