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Rape as Atrocity in Contemporary Haryana

This paper highlights the escalating incidence of sexual violence against Dalit girls by Jats in contemporary Haryana, and the extraordinary struggles unfolding in the battle for justice. Details from a few cases through fact-finding visits and interactions present pictures of suffering and courage within entrenched structures of caste, now under siege. The unique place of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in contemporary Haryana is another major facet of the struggle under way. The paper poses many questions to the women's movement, the wider democratic public, and the state. How much progress has been made in claims towards restorative justice, whereby victimhood can be transformed into meaningful survival?

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression acknowledges with deep gratitude the courage and openness shown by all the rape survivors and their family members in speaking out and sharing their ongoing battles for justice. We are also indebted to the Peoples Media Advocacy and Resource Centre, the Dalit Media Watch team for their work; Rajat Kalsan, activist and advocate with the Human Rights Law Network; Bajrang Indal and Pradeep Ambedkar, members of the Ambedkar Students Union, Hisar; students and teachers of the women’s studies department, University of Kurukshetra; and members of the AIDWA, AIDMAM, and NACDOR who interacted with us. We also thank Padmini Swaminathan for her constructive comments in revising this essay.

This paper is an attempt to expose the ongoing onslaught of sexual violence against Dalit girls and women in Haryana. It is simultaneously an effort to acknowledge the groundswell of a movement against these persistent atrocities. Women’s organisations and feminists have repeatedly emphasised that victims of non-fatal rape and sexual assault should be thought of as survivors, fully capable of rebuilding their lives, and therefore requiring not just punitive, but restorative justice. One of the questions before us, in the face of the determination and courage demonstrated by so many in Haryana, is how far we have moved towards our goal of translating victimhood into meaningful survival.

The relentless succession of rapes, gang rapes, murders and sexual assaults has escalated to a point where official attempts to dismiss them as “isolated incidents” seem ridiculous and callous. Dalit organisations and Dalit women’s groups have been at the forefront of bringing these violations into public view. In October 2012, Dalit activists from media watch groups created a map of Haryana with the title “30 Days in a Rape State” with locations and basic information on the rape of 19 Dalit girls in several districts during that month alone. A year later, this was followed up with a list of 101 cases from across the country, gleaned from English newspapers, and circulated in August 2013. An updated version of this list was circulated after two months, with the number of cases having shot up by 80% to 180 cases. In July 2015, the Dalit media watch group Peoples Media Advocacy and Resource Centre (PMARC) released a new national list for 2014 of 212 select cases gleaned from English newspapers, involving atrocity, assault, rape and murder against Dalit women.

In sharp contrast to the anger and outrage over the fatal gang rape on 16 December 2012 in Delhi that shocked the nation and created ripples across the world, public and media reactions to the equally horrifying ordeals of Dalit girls and women have been muted. Their stories receive only cursory attention and are seldom followed up with any seriousness. Even women’s movements across the country have not been able to respond to this explosion of sexual violence in Haryana in any sustained manner. On 16 December 2013, the first anniversary of the Delhi case, Dalit women’s organisations expressed their anger against the apathy and insensitivity of the media and the general silence of the women’s movement.1

Defying all odds, Haryana is now the site of growing Dalit resistance, with the issue of violence against the Dalit community, particularly Dalit women, as a central focus of mobilisation. What makes this all the more significant is that Haryana has not had the benefit of a visible anti-caste movement. Far too little is known of the struggles between Dalits and Jats in relation to land that go back to the very birth of Haryana in 1966. An all-India movement under the leadership of the Republican Party of India (RPI) in 1965, demanding fallow land for the landless, did not leave Punjab and Haryana untouched. According to Kundan Chaudhary, secretary of the RPI in Haryana, 50 years ago villagers led by Chaudhary Chand Ram, the then secretary of RPI(A), agitated in large numbers at Chhuchhakwas, Jhajjar, where more than 1,000 people courted arrest. Many women were part of this move- ment, some of whom were pregnant, and two of them gave birth in jail. When Chand Ram became the deputy chief minister of the state, 5,000 families got two acres of barren land each.

There has been more conflict, with growing Dalit demands for justice and dignity. The evidence collected and documented by such an emerging movement lends weight to the pers- pective that sees attacks against Dalits as a reaction by the dominant Jat community to the rising aspirations and asser- tion of rights by Dalits in Haryana. This battleground of aspiration, counter-attack, resistance and further subjugation is starkly visible in the cold figures put out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the home ministry. Haryana is among the states that claim low rates of crimes against women and Dalits. Table 1 tells a powerful if disturbing story.

 Till about a decade ago, these low rates of reported crimes contrasted sharply with the corresponding all-India figures, whether for rape, crimes against Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the special category of crimes reported under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989) (PoA Act). As can be readily seen from Table 1, in 2004, 217 crimes against the SCs, 33 cases of rape, and 31 cases of crimes under the PoA Act were recorded for Haryana. But, in subsequent years, these figures began to climb to a greater degree than what was being reported for the rest of the coun- try. All reported rapes in the state increased about two and half times from 386 in 2004 to 971 in 2013 (at a rate greater than that for India overall); while rapes against Dalit women jumped from a bare 33 reported cases in 2004, to 131 in 2013 (an over fourfold increase). In particular, the increase in cases from 2012 to 2013 is quite astonishing, especially when we recall the significance of 16 December 2012 in bringing the crime of rape to public attention and action. This makes the shifting trends in the figures for cases filed under the PoA Act as reported by the NCRB even more inexplicable. First, there is the extraordinary rise of cases from a low of 31 in 2004, to all of 150 cases filed in 2011. Yet, in 2012 and 2013, just 15 and 14 cases, respectively, came to be filed under this act. The conclu- sion is inescapable; the drastic reduction in the number of these cases does not reflect a decline in caste atrocities (espe- cially when this is not at all reflected under other heads of crimes against SCs), but speaks of a highly determined effort by the authorities to prevent and block the registration of such cases. In ways, which we will come back to later in this paper, the PoA Act therefore represents one site of the current battle over Dalit rights in the state.

Dalit Women Speak Out

Dalit organisations and Dalit women’s groups like the PMARC, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM), Rashtriya Dalit Mahila Andolan (RDMA) and National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) have been at the forefront of bringing the spiralling cases of violence into visibility. Theyhave picketed police stations in Haryana, staged protests before the Chief Minister and the resident commissioner at Haryana Bhavan in New Delhi, and demanded that these cases be registered under the PoA Act. A National Tribunal on Violence against Dalit Women was held on 30 September and 1 October 2013 in New Delhi, organised by the AIDMAM. Of the 45 depositions, 17 cases were of sexual violence. The highest number was from Haryana, followed by Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Testimonies were recorded of a number of minor girls (NCDHR 2013).

The growing violence against Dalits by the dominant castes has all the hallmarks of a backlash against the increasing political assertion and upward mobility of Dalits, which the Jats recognise as a threat to their hitherto unquestioned exercise of economic, social and political power in Haryana. The entry of Dalits into elected panchayats through reservations has sharpened this perception. There is open resentment at the fact that some sections of the educated Dalit youth (albeit only from a few sub-castes) have been able to take advantage of reservations in government jobs and also capitalise on emerging opportunities in the urban manufacturing and service sectors. Access to education and support under special schemes, such as scholarships and allowances for parents of girls (the so-called “girl child schemes” of the Government of Haryana that seek to neutralise preference for sons) are seen by Jats as undue benefits given to the Dalit community. The increasing visibility of Dalit girls in schools, colleges and public spaces is being read as a challenge to the established order, heralding the breaking away of the landless Dalit naukar (servant) from economic and social dependence and subservience to the Jat malik. Today, as in the past, sexual violence against Dalit women is the punishment for this assertion (WSS 2014).

At a workshop on “Issues Before the Women’s Movement” organised by the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in May 2013, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) activists from Haryana spoke of how young women, whose dress and demeanour are read to reflect these aspirations of upward mobility, have been singled out for sexual attacks as a way of “showing them their place.” Gangs of young Jat boys roam around the villages on motorcycles, stalking Dalit girls. Sometimes, the girls are drawn into romantic relationships and sexual liaisons, which end in gang rapes by the lover and his friends (John 2013).

This paper draws upon and updates an earlier report (WSS 2014) brought out by our organisation Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) on sexual violence against Dalit girls and women, based on a series of visits by WSS members to locations in Rohtak, Hisar, Jind, Karnal and Kurukshetra Districts, where we met and interviewed some of the survivors and their families. These visits were mediated by meetings and intensive discussions with a team of young Dalit lawyers and activists, who provided valuable insights into and analyses of the cases of sexual violence and the difficulties of pursuing justice for the survivors. In the absence of existing studies of the situation of violence against Dalit women, or any systematic compilation of data on crimes committed, it is their testimonies and experiences, together with our field visits, that form the backbone of this paper and our reflections.

Our attempt here as Delhi-based members of the WSS is, therefore, only a limited effort towards drawing attention to the ongoing struggles in Haryana. The section below documents a few cases drawn from fact-finding visits by WSS members. Subsequent sections reflect on these cases as well as accounts of Dalit activists and lawyers in Haryana in order to suggest that there are broader patterns in the responses of the state machinery, especially towards the PoA Act. Even though the individual cases we discuss open only a small window to the situation on the ground, we believe that they contribute towards building a larger picture. Briefly summarised below, each case has its own unique story to tell, yet they all demonstrate how Dalit girls have become targets of extreme violence.

Bhagana Village2

The abduction and rape of four girls from the village of Bhagana, Hisar District in March 2014, did receive some measure of media attention. This is only because the survivors arrived along with approximately 100 families in April 2014 to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, ready to camp out in the fierce summer heat in order to force attention from the national capital. All the girls were minors, were abducted by five Jat boys from the same village, and despite threats were able to identify the rapists and get them arrested with the help of local Dalit activists. Their village had already been witness to a long-running Jat offensive against the Dalits since 2012 for having mobilised against the forcible appropriation and fencing of their village commons by the Jats, and were suffering economic and social boycott as a consequence. Dalits had taken their struggle to the Hisar secretariat with an indefinite dharna in May 2012. Sometime in February 2014, the father of one of the survivors and a bonded labourer to the sarpanch, was beaten by him, such that he threatened to complain. The gang rape took place within a month of this altercation. Despite further threats, the families went ahead with the legal process, got first information reports (FIRs) lodged, which also meant that the girls were subjected to the banned two-finger medical test. Even though there was every reason to do so, the PoA Act was not invoked.

Since their arrival in Delhi, several broad-based protests were organised under the banner of the Bhagana Kand Sangharsh Samiti (BKSS; Bhagana Atrocity Struggle Committee), and petitions were sent to the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Women (NCW) and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC). Cases were filed in the Chandigarh High Court, including a civil case demanding compensation and rehabilitation for the social boycott and displacement from the village. In early June 2014, the Delhi Police and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation attempted to evict the families claiming “red alert” in the face of the upcoming Parliament session. While many of the families including the girls left Delhi, the leaders remained. The girls’ families had to resume working for Jat landowners since they had become indebted with no means to repay the money. Having dropped out of school even before the rape, the girls themselves remain at home. The WSS has found it difficult, in the midst of all the protests, to maintain an enduring connection with the girls themselves.

The BKSS has been struggling to take their demands forward, to break the social and economic boycott in Bhagana and fight the case of gang rape in court. At one point, they looked for sources of support from non-Congress political parties. On 8 August 2015, leaders along with several families returned to Jantar Mantar in Delhi and converted to Islam as a mark of political protest. When we spoke to their leaders, they said that they had been contemplating leaving the Hindu fold since 2012. They hoped for more equality in Islam than they had experienced so far. Not even the advantages of reservations for Hindu SCs could keep them, since their own university degrees had not translated into jobs, and, in any event, reservations had only benefited a tiny proportion of Dalits. Their conversion led to attacks from Hindu right-wing groups with the support of the police. On 20 August 2015 came the news that the Hisar courts had acquitted the accused rapists for reasons that are not clear. At the time of writing this paper, moves were on to file an appeal against the acquittal in the Chandigarh High Court.

Baniyakheda Village3

Yet another case that did receive some media attention was the sexual assault and murder of a college student in Baniyakheda village, Jind District in August 2013. The body of the 20-yearold victim, who left home on 24 August to take an exam in Jind town, was found in a field adjoining an irrigation canal. It bore several injuries and the clothes were blood stained, yet the post-mortem insisted there was no medical evidence of rape and a case of suicide was registered.

Following a dharna by aggrieved relatives who refused to allow cremation, and the support of Dalit women’s organisations, another post-mortem was conducted at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) in Delhi, where once again suicide was registered, including arresting a relative of the victim for abetment to suicide.

His release was secured only after sustained pressure from the activists. The immunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and the dubious role of the police and administration is evident in the refusal to register the prima facie evidence under the relevant sections. The complicity of the police is also revealed in the refusal to carry out proper investigation in terms of securing evidence like clothes, blood samples found on the clothes and around the area where the body was found.

The case was extensively covered by the media. The AIDMAM played a pivotal role in organising rallies and demonstrations in Delhi. However, neither the NCW nor the NCSC made any serious intervention. The case has now been officially closed, with the girl’s death being declared a suicide after a failed love affair. The family has been given the closure report and the post-mortem report of the case. The father seems to have been silenced by promises of compensation, and is now reluctant to support the demand for reinvestigation.

Sarsana Village4

In this tragic case, the girl was barely 13 years old when, in February 2013, she stepped out of her home in Sarsana village of Hisar District to relieve herself. Her body was found floating in a water tank the following day. Semen from a vaginal swab was found to match stains in the accused boy’s underwear. Death by drowning was recorded even though there was no water in the lungs. When the girl’s father and uncle persisted in filing a case against the son of a prominent Jat family who had been stalking the girl, and he was arrested, there was pressure from khap elders to withdraw the case. The police colluded to help concoct a confession from the boy that it was a case of love and consensual sex. Even other Dalits have been pressurised to get the father to withdraw the case, and the family has been forced to move elsewhere. Charges have been filed under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act). In spite of clear forensic evidence of sex with a minor, it is ridden with obstacles.

Dabra Village5

The case that has left the greatest impression on us is that of the gang rape of a schoolgirl in Dabra village, Hisar District in September 2012. She was just 15 years old at the time. The rape was filmed on a mobile phone and circulated. When her father, a gardener in a private house, was shown the clip, he went home and hanged himself.

It was only because of sustained dharnas by local activists who came to know of the story that a case of rape and abetment to suicide was filed. Intimidation and delays followed, including trying to avoid filing charges under the PoA Act by removing every mention of the caste of the accused in the recorded complaint, and attempting to implicate Dalit boys, even the girl’s own brother. Ongoing public pressure, media coverage and the subsequent intervention of the NCSC finally led to the arrest of eight accused, and the conviction of four of them by a fast track court. But, if anything, this only led to the stepping-up of a campaign of threats, including from the wives of the accused, and local political leaders. Interestingly, this is one case where the girl and her family were then provided police protection, shifted to Hisar town, where her mother got a menial job in the local Red Cross, and compensation of Rs 2.6 lakh was awarded.

In July 2014, the girl, now almost 18, enrolled in a local girl’s college in Hisar town, but her identity was made public, and taunts from teachers and classmates, most of whom were Jats, effectively forced her to drop out. An interview with an Australian television channel led to further harassment to the point of her being declared mentally disturbed by the chief medical officer, all in an effort to get her to disown the interview. She has bouts of depression, and so does her brother, who initially had hoped for some kind of government job and has now dropped out of his Industrial Training Institute (iti) course and left the family of mother and daughter to stay with relatives.

Yet, with constant support and encouragement from her lawyer and other Dalit activists, the girl, who told us when we first met her in 2013, of her determination to complete her education and become a lawyer, has made extraordinary progress. She has been volunteering as an activist with a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) and is helping and supporting other rape survivors, one of whom is as young as 10 years old. On several occasions, she has displayed extraordinary courage and leadership, speaking publicly about her case and those of several others in cities like Delhi and Chandigarh. Even so, her situation remains fragile. She has been unable to fulfil her desire to further her education. All the compensation money appears to have been swallowed up by relatives beyond the immediate family. When we met her last in May 2015, we saw a young woman whose future never appeared more uncertain, even though this was a case where the criminal justice system had been made to act in her favour. Here is a young woman in the prime of life, who has clearly demonstrated amazing capacity, but who needs much more beyond the small circle around her and her personal strength, by way of institutional and movement support.

Daya Village6

Yet another gang rape took place in Daya village of Hisar District on 3 November 2012, in the middle of the day in the girl’s own home. The girl was just 16 years old at the time (she had lost her mother many years ago) and her father (a labourer at a sand mine) was out for work. All four Jat boys were known to her by sight. The girl dropped out of school, and the rape only came out later. Initially, the Jats attempted the route of obtaining an apology from the boys and some compensation. A long-drawn struggle to get the case filed ensued, with the local police not recording the case properly and the family receiving threats from the families of the accused. Finally, with

the help of her uncle, a full statement by the girl was recorded and the four boys arrested. But, what followed were khap panchayat meetings threatening expulsion from the village, a revised report omitting mention of rape with affidavits in support of the accused, and the dropping of charges under the PoA Act. The final charge sheet filed by the police was based on the father’s initial complaint, and mentions only trespass, simple hurt and threat. The girl’s statement of rape was discounted as not being supported by the medical report (which was done six days after the rape, on the intervention of the superintendent of police). When the girl’s lawyer contested the revised report and the dropping of charges under the PoA Act, the police filed charges against him under the PoA Act on the grounds that the investigating officer accused of falsifying the investigation was a Dalit himself.

The girl’s family is continuously being harassed and effectively punished for pursuing justice for her. The father has lost his job at the local sand mine; the girl’s uncles and cousins have been slapped with a false case alleging that they kidnapped a Jat boy. The girl left her village to stay with an aunt in Hisar town for a year or two when the boys were released on bail, but has since moved back, where she is unable to go to school, though she hopes to finish school through the open school system. The case has been filed as a private complaint under the IPC as well as the PoA Act.

Given this history, it was all the more shocking to discover when we met her again in May 2015 that her own uncle, who had been playing such a leading role in fighting her case, had now somehow turned into an abuser himself. We met the family (the girl, her father, brother and newly-wed sister-in-law) at the Hisar District court, where they had come to lodge a case against the uncle, a married man. He had physically attacked the girl with a brick to the extent that she needed hospitalisation with nine stitches on her scalp. Now, he was attempting to sexually assault her and the sister-in-law and evict the family from their home and land, claiming the property was his. By filing a case against him, the family was later able to return home. Even if this meant that further danger had been contained for the time being, what future did this young woman have in such a situation?

Kalsi Village7

This young girl, around 14 or 15 years old, from Kalsi village in Karnal District, was waylaid on her way to school on 6 August 2012 by two men from the Rodh community, who took her away in a car. She was threatened and intimidated into keeping quiet about the attack for some time. A neighbour appears to have been associated with the crime—she took the clothes that the girl was wearing and washed them so that the evidence was destroyed. A month later, her mother, who had been steadfast in supporting her (despite opposition from her own community), was raped and killed by the same men, who also threw acid on her face to disfigure her. The girl was able to identify both men, who have been arrested. She has also named the neighbour, who has been arrested as well. The first information report (FIR) was filed only after the superintendent of police intervened.

When the WSS team met the girl, almost half of the compensation the family was given by the government (Rs 60,000 for the sexual assault and Rs 3.75 lakh for the murder) had been spent on expenses connected with the case. The father, a wage labourer, had withstood pressure (even the offer of Rs 60 lakh and two acres of land). Even other Dalit families were ostracising them, possibly due to pressure from Rodh landowners or because the neighbour who was arrested was herself a Dalit. The girl remains traumatised by the entire experience, especially the disfigurement and murder of her mother, and no longer goes to school. When we met her, she had just returned from the Tehelka Thinkfest where she was on a panel of rape survivors. Her father is equally traumatised and fears for his safety, especially once the accused get bail, and has pinned his hopes on a government job (promised by the SC/ST commissioner) so that he is no longer dependent on the Rodh community.

Kurukshetra District8

One of the cases of sexual assault from a village in Kurukshetra took place in October 2013, when a young girl returning home with her mother and sister was dragged by some boys into a car, driven away and raped. It took more than two days for the girl to be able to speak a word. But, she then identified the perpetrators (two from the Rodh community and one a Bajigar, while she belonged to a landless Oda family). Her father has been unable to continue vending goods and getting local daily wage work. It is uncertain how long he can fight the case and not capitulate to the pressure to compromise or withdraw.

According to the mother, there have been several other cases in recent years, all of which have been hushed up.

In another village in Kurukshetra District, a 16-year-old was sexually assaulted in May 2013. She is one of three children of a woman agricultural labourer who was initially reluctant to speak to the WSS team, but gradually opened up. She said that she felt completely alone and unsupported, even by her own community, and was finding it impossible to pursue the legal case. As a single parent, her priority was to arrange a marriage for her daughter and “send her away” as soon as possible. She hinted that the people from her own community, who persuaded her to drop the case, were acting under the influence of the upper castes.

The State’s Response

The pressure created by Dalit activists put the Haryana government in an uncomfortable position. On 9 October 2012, Sonia Gandhi visited one of the families in Nawala, Jind District, where the victim, barely 16 years old, had committed suicide after being gang-raped. According to media reports, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda promised a “crime against women” cell and quick trials to bring the vagabonds responsible to justice. 9 However, activists informed us that the actual

direction taken by the state leadership, rattled that these rapes were “a conspiracy to malign the government,” was to order district-level authorities to bring down the number of rape cases registered under the PoA Act. In effect, such an order

incentivises police inaction in rape cases brought by Dalit girls against Jats. This goes some way towards explaining the NCRB figures, discussed earlier in the paper, which showed the sudden inexplicable decline in cases of violence against Dalit women in 2012 and 2013 registered under the PoA Act after the huge spike in the number of such cases that were filed in 2011.

Need for Systematic Documentation

In every single case that we have documented above, complaints were lodged and investigations initiated only because of sustained pressure from Dalit activists. But for this, not one case would have been filed. Going over these cases, this section also draws from interviews with lawyers and activists who have been engaging with these issues outside and in the courts for several years. Their testimony demonstrates the need for more systematic documentation of the struggles being waged by Dalit organisations to get state institutions to perform their basic functions in recording complaints and conducting procedures, and the many barriers that have to be crossed at every step.

Even in cases directly monitored by activists, the police keep up the pressure and intimidation of survivors and their families in order to try and force them to withdraw the case. Of the cases we encountered, so far only one case in Kurukshetra succumbed to withdrawal. The accounts of survivors and their families show the same strategies being deployed again and again to subvert their attempts to get justice. Parents who go to the police station to report that their daughter is missing are usually told that she must have run away with some boy, and lodging a case will only make things more difficult for the family (recall the Baniyakheda and Sarsana cases). In cases where the survivor’s statement is the basis of the complaint, she is subjected to casteist abuse and insensitive questioning by male police officers, and accused of trying to corrupt “innocent Jat boys.”

References to the caste of the accused are often not recorded in the complaint, even when they are specifically named by the survivor and witnesses. Witness statements implicating Jat boys are either removed from the records, or countered with signed affidavits from Jats vouching for the boys’ character and casting aspersions on the girl’s “character.” Dalit activists have now begun responding to this strategy by collecting counter-affidavits from members of the Dalit community in support of the complainant.

There is a consistent pattern of complaints of rape and murder being recast as consensual sex and suicide on the basis of “medical evidence.” The banned “two-finger test” continues to be conducted (including during post-mortems) and cited as evidence of regular sexual activity, even in cases where the girl is barely in her teens. Post-mortems (usually conducted by morgue attendants) do not follow recognised procedures, and reports are generally either inconclusive or slanted in favour of the accused. A Dalit doctor who is posted in the Hisar District hospital told us that while Jat doctors are reluctant to treat Dalit patients, they are always deputed for conducting postmortems on Dalit girls.

In several cases, where the victim has been killed, families have rejected the initial post-mortem report and have refused to cremate the body of the victim until a second post-mortem is conducted. This strategy does not always yield results. By the time the demand is conceded, the body is likely to have deteriorated to a point where even the most rigorous examination cannot yield any credible results. Official records from the superintendent of police’s office show that as many as 11 out of 15 cases of rape of Dalit girls have been closed after investigation, simply on the basis of a noting on the file by the superintendent of police. Dalit boys have been named as the accused in all the closed cases.

Following several cases where Dalit activists have been able to get investigations reopened on the grounds of caste bias, it has now become the practice to assign Dalit officers to investigate cases of violence against Dalit girls. In every district, one police officer is Dalit. Dalit lawyers and activists pursuing cases say that this is a calculated move on the part of the state to counter the filing of these rapes under the PoA Act. These activists also cite several instances where powerful Jats have complained against government officers who have followed the normal course of duty undeterred by social pressures, as a result of which they have been transferred and posted in departments where they do not have direct public dealings.

The state is immune to any concern for the economic plight of the families. Although rape is a capital crime and the state is supposed to pursue justice, the fact is that families—already affected by loss of work in the aftermath of rape—are forced to spend their own money for legal expenses. Often, the compensation they receive evaporates in the process of litigation.

The state’s duty to ensure education to every child apparently does not extend to these girls. Survivors inevitably drop out, and then other girls from the community are kept at home by parents who fear repercussions after each incident. There are very few cases where the survivor has braved hostility and humiliation to continue her studies; indeed, all the survivors we encountered had dropped out of school or college.

In fact, schools at the best of times are sites for violence against Dalit girls. We were told that one of the schoolteachers in Behbalpur village has been accused of rape by several Dalit girls. He is a Jat and is being protected by the khap; no action has been taken by the police on these complaints. In protest, most Dalit parents have withdrawn their daughters from the school. The situation is even worse in private schools, many of which are run by religious trusts and Jat organisations. Given the perception that private schools are better than government ones and the determination to educate their children against all odds, Dalit parents continue to send their children to these substandard and child-unfriendly establishments.

These families are, therefore, taking on the might of the state at each step—whether in registering complaints and pursuing cases, or in speaking out in public forums and coming out on the streets to press their demands for justice.

The Prevention of Atrocities Act

As we have seen, one of the more significant aspects of the fight for justice is that these cases of sexual violence are being fought within the ambit of the PoA Act. This historic legislation

came into existence in 1989 as a belated response to pressure from Dalit organisations and parliamentarians. Under this law, specific crimes have been designated as “atrocities”infliction of intolerable harm upon individuals—thus acknowledging the structural nature of acts of caste violence, such as murder, looting and arson, as well as physical attacks and rapes perpetrated upon Dalits by the dominant castes. With reference to sexual assault of women from SC/ST communities, the law therefore distinguishes between “mere” rape and “rape as atrocity.” Under this new law, an atrocity refers to offences under the IPC committed against Dalits by non-Dalits (or against STs by non-STs), and is explicitly meant to draw attention to the shocking, cruel and inhumane nature of the crime. It is based on the assumption that, where victims of a crime are Dalits and the offenders are not, caste considerations are a root cause of the crime, even though caste considerations may not be the most visible or only motive for the crime. The practice of untouchability was thus made into a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.

The PoA Act itself can be broadly divided into three sections: the first establishes criminal liability for a number of specifically defined atrocities; the second contains provisions for relief and compensation for victims of atrocities; and the third contains provisions that establish special authorities for the implementation and monitoring of the act, such as special courts. Dereliction of duty on the part of government officials in implementing or monitoring the act is also, therefore, a crime. The PoA Act thus extends the constitutional ideal of substantive equality to the stigmatised bodies of Dalits, conferring on them legal recognition as rights bearers, and enjoining that they be treated as such by government institutions. The PoA Act constitutes a legal challenge to the structures of immunity and impunity that had denied justice to Dalits.

However, in the actual operation of the PoA Act, the very existence of the oppression of the SCs and STs that it was designed to address and counter has been systematically denied. This is done primarily through recourse to technicalities and a refusal to concede that a specific case of violation actually constitutes an atrocity. For instance, courts have dismissed charges of rape under the PoA Act on the grounds that the assaulters did not know that the raped woman was a Dalit; that the assaulters were acting out of lust or sexual desire, and therefore the case was of “mere” rape and not a deliberate atrocity; or by refusing to acknowledge the experiential social context of the aggrieved woman. The most shocking recent instance of this deliberate obfuscation of justice was seen in the Khairlanji rape and murders in Maharashtra. The situation is not very different in Haryana.

The Mirchpur Case

In a major incident of caste violence in the village of Mirchpur in Hisar District, a large group of Jats torched the house of Tara Chand, a 70-year-old Dalit (Valmiki) man, on 21 April 2010. Tara Chand and his physically challenged young daughter were burnt alive in the fire. The trigger for this attack took place two days earlier, when a pet dog belonging to a Dalit boy barked at a couple of Jat boys who were passing through the basti (neighbourhood). The Dalit boy protested when the Jats threw stones at his pet. The altercation escalated and culminated in an attack by armed Jats on the homes of the Dalits.

The Valmiki community refused to cremate the bodies of Tara Chand and his daughter, and organised roadblocks and chakka jam (blockade) protests until the administration promised a fresh probe into the killings. This finally led to more than 100 Jat men being arrested and charged. The accused were charged under the PoA Act as well as under the relevant sections of the IPC for murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, promoting enmity between different communities, physical assault, creating mischief, and damaging public property. The legal process was protracted and difficult. The victims successfully petitioned for the case to be moved to the Supreme Court on the grounds that they would not receive a fair trial in a Haryana court.

The case that was transferred to Delhi on 8 December 2011 effectively started in March 2012 and was over in six months as it proceeded on a day-to-day basis. The judgment was pronounced by the Supreme Court on 24 September 2012 (more than two years after the incident), with 15 people being held guilty, while 82 others were let off due to want of evidence. A sentence of life imprisonment was given to three of the accused, and five others were given varying jail terms of up to five years. It was the first time in the history of Haryana that three Jat men were sentenced to life for atrocity against a Dalit. Seven of the accused were released on probation for one year. The witnesses along with their families were provided housing and complete protection during the period of the trial.

The Mirchpur case attracted national attention and local hostility in equal measure. Every provision of the PoA Act was invoked and tested during the long court battle. Orders were sought from the Supreme Court for each step—arrest of the accused, witness protection, payment of compensation, and rehabilitation of survivors and witnesses who had been forced out of the village. The case has been a breakthrough because it shattered the myth of Jat invulnerability. It is perhaps the first instance in Haryana where Dalit witnesses did not turn hostile, and stood by their statements against the powerful Jat accused.

The successful convictions have also been the trigger for increased hostility against Dalit lawyers who appear in the trial courts. Moreover, despite the national attention given to the case, the state government has refused to implement Supreme Court orders on rehabilitation and compensation; the families who fled the village are still living in the open air in makeshift camps. Nor have the 15 convicted men been tried on charges of murder.

Caste Discrimination in the Haryana Justice System

We have drawn attention at the very beginning of this paper to the increase in the number of cases that were being registered under the PoA Act in Haryana, based on the NCRB data collected by the police over the last decade, in the wake of the relatively recent discovery among Haryana-based Dalit activists

and lawyers of its potential. A huge battle is being currently fought out across this state in relation to this act. According to advocates and activists, the power of the act to expose cases of structural violence against Dalits comes up against the very forces—including within the judiciary, not to speak of the bureaucracy, police or khap panchayats—that are going all out to make this law ineffective. Drawing from the cases as well as the experiences of Dalit lawyers, who provided extensive testimony at a public meeting on Dalit human rights in Hisar in November 2013, 10 the following picture emerges.

Typically, when a Dalit in Haryana goes to the police to report a case of violence, the officers threaten the victim to leave out terms of caste abuse or caste insults from the report. Nine out of 10 complaints of anti-Dalit atrocities are thereby not registered or, if they are, are subsequently dismissed. 11 In cases of rape of Dalit girls and women, the age column is not filled in, even when she is a minor, nor is her caste cited. The statements of family members are written without showing them what has been written, according to the convenience of the investigating officers and that of the accused, in order to be on the right side during the court proceedings later.

Section 15 of the PoA Act provides that the victim be allowed to engage a reputed (senior) lawyer at state expense. And, this ought to be done immediately, but the prosecution deliberately delays this, so that the victim is forced to engage ordinary government-appointed lawyers, who are usually on the side of the accused. The police have additional powers of investigation, but they misuse this to undermine the PoA Act. In the Daya gang rape case in Hisar in November 2012 (discussed above), the police removed the rape- and PoA Act-related sections based on sworn affidavits given by khap panchayat members. In the same way, in the Dabra case of September 2012, the police did not include the victim’s statements about castebased enmity, and deliberately conducted a substandard investigation, so that not a single accused was charged under the act. Again, in the Sarsana rape and murder case of February 2013, no charge of gang rape was registered even though the forensic lab report confirmed the rape.

Furthermore, the accused are deliberately cleared of charges, based only on a lie detector test, even though the Supreme Court has declared this to be invalid. According to the activists we spoke to, when a Dalit happens to be the accused, a very careful and complete investigation is conducted and a strong case built to ensure a long jail term. Where rapes of Dalits are concerned, the upper castes and the state propagate the myth that Dalits register false cases in order to get hold of the compensation money. The police also deliberately fail to book the accused under the PoA Act so that they can get bail. As most of the judges, if not all, are Jats, Dalit lawyers routinely face hostility from the bench. According to a Dalit human rights lawyer and activist working in Haryana, filing a case under the PoA Act, bringing it to court, and obtaining a conviction is like “a blind and lame man climbing Everest.”

There are very few lawyers in the state who agree to take on cases under the PoA Act; most refuse to get involved fearing professional repercussions or even physical attacks by the Jats who are accused in such cases. When cases under the PoA Act come up for hearing, judges find excuses and ameliorating factors, even if the accused themselves are not contesting the charges. Delaying tactics, such as repeated postponement of hearings and petty technical objections to the sections under which the charges are filed, are common. Judges have also been seen to be reluctant to award the tough sentences provided for under the PoA Act. Various other provisions of the law are routinely flouted, such as Section 18, which debars anticipatory bail in cases under the PoA Act. Judges in sessions courts ignore this provision and invoke their discretionary powers to grant bail to the accused. The high court also grants anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which is expressly disallowed under the PoA Act.

Dalit petitioners are also humiliated and intimidated by judges, who warn them against going to the Supreme Court, and tell them that, if they cannot prove their case, they will be charged under Section 182 of the CrPC (for filing a false case). The brother of the survivor in the Daya case recounts the humiliation of being treated as a helpless object of pity by the “Judge Madam,” who kept referring to them as bechara (poor fellow), “Yeh bechare garib log mayoos hokar baithe—hainbecharon ko pani pilao” (these poor people are sitting despairingly—give some water to these poor fellows). These experiences of years of struggle in the police stations and courts of Haryana mirror the trends noted by the National Human Rights Commission in its report on the implementation of the PoA Act (2004). Nonetheless, this act continues to be a beacon for the Dalit movement in their quest for justice for Dalit women and girls.

Reflections

Haryana is no different from other parts of India in being home to a “rape culture” perpetuated through the use of casteist and misogynistic language; the dehumanisation and objectification of Dalit women’s bodies; the glamorisation of violence and macho masculinity; and the justification of caste, class and gender hierarchies as right, proper and necessary for the preservation of order and stability.

The failure of land reforms in the state—a consequence of the overwhelming hold of Jats over political power—has served to further consolidate the economic and social dominance of the Jats. As the owners of more than 80% of all land in the state, the Jats are the only caste group that has cornered the benefits of both the Green Revolution and urbanisation/ industrialisation. But, at the same time, these benefits have not percolated to those at the bottom of the Jat hierarchy as there is a considerable section of Jats who are landless too. Their entry into the labour market is marked by obstacles where the state is in liaison with big corporations to maximise profit. Although they are now demanding recognition as a backward caste to avail themselves of the benefits reserved for Other Backward Classes (OBCs), it has to be asserted here that Jats are at the pinnacle of the caste hierarchy in Haryana. Unlike in other states, where a group of dominant castes vie for control over political and economic power, a single caste—

the Jats—exercise undisputed control over the state. They dominate in all formal and informal institutions, and have therefore been able to exercise their caste power with impunity.

The Jats, like landowning castes in other parts of the country, have traditionally exercised control over the bodies, labour, possessions and choices of their Dalit labourers. The sexual exploitation of Dalit women and girls is still regarded by the Jat men as a privilege they can easily exercise. Apart from near-total ownership of productive lands, Jat dominance is expressed through control over the village commons, such as grazing lands, wastelands used for defecation and burial of dead animals, sacred groves, scrublands and forests, and lands developed with public funds, such as playgrounds and chaupals (used for community meetings). The lack of independent access to resources has led to Dalits being economically dependent on Jat landowners. Thereby, economic and social boycotts are being increasingly used by Jats against the Dalits who assert their rights to common land; this in itself implies renewed hardships for Dalits.

It is from this unlikely space, characterised by the prevalence of traditional forms of economic, social and cultural exploitation, that a small but stubbornly persistent opposition to this way of life is making its voice heard. It is demanding a response not only from the state machinery, but also from women’s movements and all those who claim to stand for democratic values and human rights.

Incredible Courage and Determination

We have focused on only a few of the numerous cases brought to the fore by these voices. In all these incidents, Dalit girls and their families—most of whom are landless agricultural labourers or artisans who are economically dependent on their violators—have shown incredible courage and determination in resisting intimidation and threats to pursue their struggle for justice.

The impact of these cases reinforces existing hierarchies of power and powerlessness. In each case that we have documented, there is a consistent pattern of consequences that spread outward from each individual girl to impact the lives of her parents and siblings, her extended family, and then the entire community. The girl herself is forced to relive her trauma at every subsequent step of the legal process. She receives no medical or psychosocial support, and invariably loses access to the one institution that could offer her a different future—schooling. In the rare cases of compensation awarded, the money is used up in legal expenses or taken by relatives.

The parents must themselves participate in the humiliation if they seek justice, and invariably suffer social and economic boycotts, including loss of work. In the Dabra case, the father committed suicide, and in another case, the mother too lost her life. Siblings too have to be fearful for their safety, and brothers are no less traumatised and find their lives slipping away. Young Dalit boys in the community become frequent scapegoats, including being falsely arrested or beaten into signing fabricated statements. The entire Dalit community can be subjected to pressure and boycotts, as we have seen. In rare cases, we have even seen that a family member or Dalit neighbour can turn against the victim.

What can be done to expose and challenge these institutionalised mechanisms of dominance and control? Those who are struggling on the ground are well aware that resisting the caste system and working towards its annihilation necessitates going beyond protests against caste atrocities. The myriad ways in which caste is tied up to marriage, family and property, and the cultural and social tyranny it brings in its wake, are invariably compounded today by deepening social and economic inequalities. This complex dynamic cannot be tackled without the forging of a common front and concerted action by all democratic groups and social movements, following the lead shown by Dalit organisations.

We also need to strengthen the growing visibility and confidence of young Dalits, especially Dalit girls. This has fuelled resentment and stoked various conspiracy theories and rumours, which are used to justify false cases or even murderous assaults against Dalit boys considered “over-smart” or too assertive. On the other hand, these acts, such as instances of sexual violence against girls, are no longer taken silently by Dalit families. Each FIR registered in these cases represents a significant act of resistance in the face of generations of caste oppression.

As we have attested, the PoA Act and its protective clauses, which are aimed at redressing the unequal place occupied by the SCs and STs, have been seriously and systematically undermined by the workings of the criminal justice system in Haryana today. Considering the blatant mode whereby cases are now being suppressed under the PoA Act, a judicial commission to evaluate its implementation should be constituted.

Given the nature of the trauma faced by the survivors and their families, and the ostracism and economic boycott they are subjected to at the hands of the dominant forces in the village, the state must be obliged by law to make provisions for medical treatment, psychological counselling, safe shelter, and livelihood options for the survivors. The state must also ensure the continuation of education when it gets disrupted, and aid the training process for a future livelihood, so that the survivors of sexual assaults can meaningfully rebuild their lives. These restorative provisions should not be linked to the criminal trial and successful prosecution of the case.

This also raises questions to the women’s movement, with its claimed emphasis on the need for a victim-centric approach to sexual violence. So much effort has gone into demands for amending rape laws and improving our abysmal rates of

conviction. We cannot say with the same confidence that there has been similar pressure to give concrete meaning to the scope of being a survivor, especially when we think of young girls whose adult lives have barely begun. If we can assume that the huge spike in reported cases of rape after 2012 in violence-ridden Haryana has something to do with the outrage and action following 16 December 2012, then we must ask ourselves what has improved when it comes to measures on the ground for survivors themselves. This is not a new question for the women’s movement by any means. But, it takes on new urgency when we listen to the extraordinary battles fought by Dalit survivors of rape and by their supporters, as they take on structures that are no longer able to silence them.

Notes

1 At the height of the spate of violence against Dalit women, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) organised a joint rally in Rohtak on 15 October 2012 to call attention to the complete apathy of the state, while the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) and Rashtriya Dalit Mahila Andolan (RDMA) held similar protests in front of Haryana Bhavan, Delhi. In the face of ongoing indifference towards the situation in Haryana, despite the enormous attention being given to rape post 16 December 2012, Dalit women’s organisations held protests in Delhi to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape.

2 Based on a series of conversations with the survivours and their families, discussions with Dalit activists leading the protests in Delhi, the local sarpanch and Dalit families and their suppor ters in Bhagana village and in Jantar Mantar, between April 2014 and August 2015. 3 Based on interviews with the family and district officials in August and September 2013.

4 Based on conversations with the father of the victim and the lawyer who has taken up the case in September 2013.

5 Based on a series of meetings and interactions between October 2013 and May 2015 with the survivor, her mother and brother, and her lawyer. 6 Based on conversations with the survivor, her lawyer, her uncle and volunteers from Ambedkar Students Union in October 2013 and a subsequent meeting with the girl and her family in Hisar in May 2015. 7 Based on interactions with the survivor and her father in October 2013. 8 The first case is based on conversations with the family of the survivor and a student activist from Kurukshetra university. The second case is based on conversations with the mother and the survivour. These visits took place in October 2013. 9 Coverage by NDTV, Times of India on 9 October 2012, and Deccan Chronicle on 12 October 2012. 10 National Consultation on Dalit Human Rights, Human Rights Law Network, Hisar, 9–10 November 2013. 11 An amendment to the PoA Act is currently pending in Parliament. Among its provisions to improve upon the act is the provision to expand upon the many forms of assault and harassment that should come under the act, and the vexed question of the “intentionality” of the accused in causing humiliation based on caste. As we have seen, in several cases in Haryana, not entering information about the caste of the victim has been the means of preventing the case being filed under the PoA Act. One of the proposed amendments is to make personal knowledge of the victim on the part of the accused sufficient grounds for knowing her caste, thus giving a whole new dimension to “acquaintance rape” from a caste perspective.

References

John, Mary E (2013): “Issues before the Women’s Movement,” Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) Newsletter, Vol 3, No 1, pp 5–8.

NCDHR (2013): “Report: National Tribunal on Violence against Dalit Women in India,” National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, New Delhi.

NHRC (2004): “K B Saxena Report on Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes,” National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi.

WSS (2014): “Speak! The Truth Is Still Alive: Land, Caste and Sexual Violence against Dalit Girls and Women in Haryana,” Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, http://wssnet.org/.

 

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