Rape as caste vendetta
"Earlier, the Dalits were illiterate and poor. Now there is more awareness and with the media’s help, incidents are being reported," says Sanjay Chouhan, a young local dalit activist who is leading the legal and the public campaign to secure justice for Seema. Chouhan was present at the civil hospital where Seema’s father’s body had been brought for post-mortem. That is when he noticed the police report prepared by the investigating officer was different from what Seema had told him.
“I immediately called the Superintendent of Police and he asked us come over. We then gave everything to him in writing...When we raised the Dabda incident and the media highlighted the issue, the government had to take notice," he explains.
According to activists, sexual violence against women, especially Dalit women, has increased.
“The government insists that the rise in crime has nothing to do with caste discrimination. But since the Jat reservation protest and the atrocity in Mirchpur against the Dalits — where the guilty have still not been arrested — the violence in the name caste has been on the rise. Today there is a new awareness to assert our rights. And crimes such gang rapes are a strategy to demoralise the community," says, Bhagoriya.
Rape is often a punishment for the growing assertiveness of women and Dalits, says the All India Democratic Women’s Association’s (AIDWA) vice-president Jagmati Sangwan.
“Women and Dalits are asserting their democratic rights. And they (referring to Khaps) look at this as a threat to their hegemony. So they are resorting to violence to suppress this awareness and assertion. In a way, if women are getting education and asking for rights and dignity, they (Khaps) think they (women) are against patriarchal values. Rape is used as a weapon. Their proposal to lower the age of marriage reflects that mindset. ‘Don’t allow girls to study, don’t allow them to wear jeans, don’t allow them to talk to boys, to use mobile phones’ — these are put forth by them to control assertion and awareness.”
And such retributive violence often goes unpunished. “There is a serious lack in the state machinery to protect the dignity and security of women. Corruption is rampant at the lower levels of the police, especially in cases of this nature. The police puts pressure on the girl’s family to settle the case. The patriarchal mindset is very strong," Sangwan says, "There is no focus on the criminals and crime, it is centric to women — ‘get them married earlier’, all this is consensual’. They are victimising the victims.”
Khap leader: blame it on fast food
Jitender Chhattar is a Khap leader from Jind district and supports lowering the age of marriage.
“It was only a suggestion. Everyone is free to give suggestions," he says, sounding a little defensive, as he tries to explain his position: "In earlier times, hormones became active at a later age. Now due to our diets and so on, hormones are becoming active sooner. That is reason why khaps said that when girls are 15-16, they should be married. This will prevent rapes to a large extent. After marriage, she can continue her studies. There is no pressure on her to give up career or studies.”
“Lowering the marriage age alone won’t solve the problem," admits Chattar, adding, "Girls must be given self-defence training in judo and karate.” A noble idea, although it remains unclear who’ll train the girls in the villages.
Chattar lists three causes for the rape crisis in Haryana: “Obscenity in the movies and lack of culture are the two main reasons responsible for such incidents. Another important reason is fast food such as chowmein and so on. They have an impact on the body.”
Fast food, did he say? How did he come to this conclusion?
“When we eat fast food, heat is produced in the body and this leads to faster production of sex hormones. There is no doubt about this. We should therefore consume cold things. And we should adopt Indian culture.”
The young Khap leader vehemently denies that caste has anything to do with the rapes. “That is completely false. This is a media creation. Everyone’s reputation is equal. Caste is not a factor. Whether a Dalit or some other caste, we respect all Indian women. Look at what happened in Sacha Khera, a Dalit raped another Dalit. Rapists have no caste, they don’t care whether she is a Dalit, a Jat or Rajput. It is a feeling that takes control of the mind.”
Asked why rapists had no fear of the Khaps or of the police, Chhattar says: “The Khaps, have always supported the strictest punishment for the rapists. The Khaps are also holding discussions on this. We will put forward some suggestions such as social boycott of rapist so that there will be fear. There should be fear of the law, like it was in British times. Politicians too have played a role in diminishing fear of law.”
And that perhaps maybe the one point on which both Chattar and his critics agree.
Ramkish Nain, 24, a farmer from Khadwal village, says young men have lost fear of the law. “The first reason is the government. Take the case of Gopal Kanda. He who has money, throws it around. This is the main reason. Crimes like rape are a reflection of power that comes from unearned money or connections and influence of parents that their son’s exploit.”