NEW DELHI: There has been a shocking increase in sexual violence committed against Dalit women who languish at the bottom of India’s caste system. But the issue is likely worse than it appears because so many crimes go unreported, reported Deutsche Welle, a German state-owned international broadcaster.
The DW report mentioned that two Dalit sisters – aged 15 and 17 – were found hanging from a tree in northern Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) Lakhimpur Kheri district last week. They had been raped and strangled, according to postmortem reports.
Police arrested six men accused of gang-raping and murdering the girls. A local police chief said the sisters had been lured into a field where they were assaulted and strangled to death with their scarves.
The attack was yet another blot on the widespread sexual violence faced by India’s community of nearly 80 million-strong Dalit women traditionally positioned on the bottom rung of a centuries-old caste system.
Last week’s rapes and killings evoked memories of a similar incident in 2014 when two Dalit girls, who were cousins and both minors, were kidnapped, gang raped and hanged from a tree in the Badaun district of UP.
The 2014 incident triggered a massive outrage during which the United Nations called for immediate action against the perpetrators.
In 2020, the gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl by some high-caste Hindus in Hathras, another district in Uttar Pradesh, also put the spotlight on the plight of the community.
“Rape against Dalit women and girls is a war against their bodies and dignity,” said Ruth Manorama, a prominent Dalit social activist and winner of the 2006 Right Livelihood Award, a prize often known as the Alternative Nobel.
Men from upper Hindu castes often use sexual violence against Dalit women to “assert their caste power” and to “humiliate them and treat them as inhuman,” she said.
The country’s latest National Crime Records Bureau showed nearly 71,000 crimes against people from Dalit castes were pending investigation at the end of 2021.