Lesson from Hathras: With state consciously restricting space for voluntary sector, only visible road is voluntarism

By Martin Macwan*

Hathras is the first case of Independent India where the State has deprived the parents of sexual abuse victim to respectfully cremate their child by forcefully burning the body knowing well that it is destroying crucial evidence. The right of respectful burial was awarded to dreaded terrorists and the convicts of the heinous crime such as Nirbhaya. There is no point in asking the head of the State to apologize.

NDA definitely had scored a double political goal to win over Dalit apprehensions of reinforcement of the Caste rule in the guise of Hindu Rashtra and marginalization of the Constitution by ensuring the first citizen to be a Dalit and thus also win over the most SC reserved seats of the Parliament both in 2014 and 2019. Tragically, today India is witnessing the contradiction of the Caste at play when both the first and the last person, the victim of the Hathras, are Dalits. With 591 Dalit MLA and 89 Dalit Members of the Parliament across India, their silence on brutal incidents of caste violence including Hathras is definitely troubling. Is the power of the political reservation hollow, as apprehended by Dr. Ambedkar?

In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput, the powers at play were hell bent to prove that it was the case of murder when all the evidence pointed it to be a case of suicide; whereas in Hathras, the people in power are using all the arms in their arsenal to pass a judgement without trial that there was no rape, even when all the evidence prove otherwise. The development is worrisome as the role of State as reformative is gradually usurped and replaced with the role of appeasement of dominant sections of society. The hope for justice dwindles when the minds of people in power are prejudicial. The only ray of hope in the case is the Suo Moto intervention of the Allahabad High Court. Honestly, it is extremely difficult to advocate faith in the judiciary with its perception of being judicious and neutral is dented.

We are witnessing a new model of governance when it comes to question of Caste. The silence of the Political leadership in times of social turmoil and the aggressive defense of the administration to quell the civil dissent and unrest. However, this is not the case when it comes to communal violence, where the State preferentially tilts towards its own larger constituency. This only has a message on the wall that the Nation, with pre-dominant leadership of the civil society has to rise and assume the role of leadership to annihilate the prejudices of Caste and Gender manifested primarily through violence but conspicuously hiding the increasing social-economic and cultural divide, dismantling the idea of a Nation.

We are also witnessing a new development. The organizing of the dominant castes, with the connivance of the politicians in their capacity claimed as personal, to defend their members, irrespective of they being charged with killings or rape. Such attempts promote organized-communal lust as can be seen in the rising number of gang rapes including Nirbhaya and Hathras. Such organizations draw the anger to motivate themselves from the fact that there a silver line emerging in the skies where people transcend caste and religious identities and come forward even at the cost of being persecuted to stand for values of equality and pluralism.

Four decades earlier I witnessed in Gujarat villages that the dominant caste men felt it was their liberty to enter any Dalit home and to do anything they wished with Dalit women. Since there was no protest, such sexual exploitation did not appear to be counted as ‘Rape Cases’. The only difference we witness now, is that such exploitative practices become ‘registered offences. It is evident that the present-day caste and gender violence is born out of the irritation and jealousy as both Dalits and the women have been steadily dismantling the structural wall of inequality. However, the unease is that we as society have thought less towards prevention of such crimes. To leave the question of justice to administration and judiciary alone tantamount to putting all eggs in a single basket.

The Manu smriti justified vulnerability of women and shudras as subjects. In South Africa, only the rape of white women was prosecuted under an apartheid system, while sexual violence against black women was accepted as a part of life (IJP: 2013 Jul-Sep; 55(3): 244–249). With the change in democratic structure of governance we have strongest legislations in place to counter such inhumanity but have we won the war over the prejudices? We cannot win this war unless we focus on prevention.

Both Gandhi and Ambedkar had one thing in common; the emphasis on education as a tool for social transformation. Unfortunately, the New Education Policy is completely silent on Sex Education, a taboo, the casteist religious powers fail to deal with under its passion for Sanskar. This is particularly worrisome with the onslaught of the internet, where we are exposing our children to the image of women as subjects of sexual gratification.

With continuous increase in caste violence : 3662 cases (1971) (526 under civil rights act and 3136 other IPC offences) to 45935 cases (2019); and increase in violence in the cases of Rape: 2487 cases (1971) to 32034 in (2019) and the failure of the State and Judiciary to prevent the same, we need to educate citizen minds from the school age. With the State consciously restricting the space of voluntary organizations, the only visible road is voluntarism; the successful strategy of all social movements including the Indian Independence struggle.

*Founder, Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad

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