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Rape of Dalit Girl Exposes the Grim Reality of Gujarat Model

According to the Gujarat govt’s figures, crimes against SCs have increased by 32% while crimes against STs by 55%.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Even as the convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case were granted death warrants, another gang rape and murder case has come to light in Gujarat. The only difference is that the victim was a Dalit. Since the incident surfaced, the Dalit community has been sitting on a dharna outside the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital demanding justice.

The 19-year-old Dalit girl was abducted and gang-raped in north Gujarat. She was killed, and her body was found hanging from a tree on 5 January. This case is not just about brutalities against women but also about atrocities on Dalits.

In our country, it is believed that men, especially those from the privileged castes, have a right over a woman's body, and Dalit women are considered to be at the bottom of social hierarchy.

Though this is a case from Gujarat, it is certainly not an isolated incident. Dalits face oppression across the country. But, in a state that’s been dubbed as a ‘model of development’, if Dalit atrocities continue, then the high command’s prestige is at stake.

The Failings of Gujarat Model

Last year, Kaushik Parmar, an RTI activist from Gujarat had sought information from the SC/ST Cell of Gujarat Police about the condition of Dalits in in the state. The RTI query revealed that in the past year, 1,545 such cases had been registered – highest since 2001. This includes 22 murders and 104 incidents of rape.

Earlier, MLAs like Jignesh Mevani have quoted Gujarat government's figures to highlight the increase in atrocities against the most marginalised. Crimes against scheduled castes have increased by 32% and crimes against scheduled tribes by 55%, Mevani said.

In his book ‘Bhed Bharat’, Martin McEwen who runs Navsarjan Trust and Dalit Shakti Kendra, says that the ‘upper’ caste practice untouchability against Dalits in Gujarat in 98 ways.
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Gujarat Ideal State For Dalits?

‘Rampatar’ or serving food in different utensils, separate wells for drinking water, separate cremation grounds, are some of the discriminatory practices which are still rampant. Dalit men are further not allowed to keep a mustache.

The entry of Dalits is prohibited in 90% of the state’s temples. They are not offered ‘prasad’ in 92.3% of the temples.

Despite the glaring realities, the conviction rate in cases of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in Gujarat is very low. Cases of atrocities against Dalits are registered under the IPC, despite the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act already in place.

According to Martin McEwen, between 1995 and 2007, less than one-third cases of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis were registered under the Act. Paul Diwakar of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights says that this trend still prevails. Besides this, Dalits are often charged in false cases and jailed.

‘Bhed Bharat’ also states that Dalits constitute 23.4% of the undertrials in the jails of Gujarat while their population is only 6.7% in the state. The rapes of Dalit and Adivasi women have increased by some seven-fold in the state. Compared to 14 such cases reported in 2001, 104 cases were registered in 2018.

In 11 districts of the state – Rajkot, Junagadh, Banaskantha, Mehsana, Patan, Anand, Gandhinagar, Bhavnagar, Surendranagar, Kutch and Ahmedabad, cases of rape of Dalit and Adivasi women are the highest.

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Even Big Cities Not Safe For Dalits

Hundreds of cases of atrocities against Dalits emerge from these big cities. In 2018, 140 cases of atrocities against Dalits were reported in Ahmedabad – the highest in the entire state.

It is a myth that in cities you do not know anyone's caste and only a person's merit matters. Discrimination on the basis of caste still remains. Last year, an Adivasi doctor Payal Tadvi killed herself. This happened in Mumbai. A few years ago, Rohit Vemula from Hyderabad was forced to take his life too.

Cornell University in New York has published a working paper on this issue. Naveen Bharti, Deepak Malaghan and Andalib Rahmanwho wrote this paper, say that even in metropolitan cities of India, there is segmentation on the basis of caste. Dalits and Adivasis live only in certain areas. In fact, modernisation, development and liberalisation have not abolished caste discrimination. When Dalits move out of small towns and villages for education or jobs, they are forced to carry their social and economic status with them.

You will find an example in Ahmedabad itself. There are separate residential colonies for different communities. Like Juhapura for Muslims and Azadnagar, Fatehwadi for Dalits. There, Dalit builders construct cheaper houses for the people of their community. Since people belonging to other communities do not provide houses on rent to Dalits, they are confined to these specific areas.

But, It's Time To Wake Up

The time has come to fight this repression of Dalits.

And, Dalits are standing up to the injustices meted out to them. In 2016, when self-styled gau rakshaks brutally flogged Dalits for de-skinning a dead cow in Una, anger erupted across Gujarat.

Members of the community brought cars full of dead cows and dropped them on the streets. Municipality officials kept calling them but they refused to touch those cows. This spontaneous outburst surprised everyone.

Dalits are fighting the historical injustices and inequality. Dalit societies are a reminder of resillience. It may seem odd to people of the privileged castes, but justice and equality are a question of life and death for the Dalits. The family members of the victim, who are sitting on a dharna, are a grim reminder of this.

Masha is a freelance journalist who specialises in women’s issues. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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