Human Rights, Family & Gender
Think Tank Programme
Brief background of the Hathras rape case: The death of a 19 year-old dalit girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, India has once again highlighted the issue of violence against women, particularly dalit women in the country. The young girl succumbed to her injuries on September 29, after she was allegedly gang raped by a group of upper caste men. She belonged to the dalit community which is at the bottom of the India’s rigid caste hierarchy. She sustained serious injuries to her spinal cord because she was also brutally assaulted by the alleged perpetrators. What was even more shocking in this case was how the local administration handled the matter when this incident came to light. On the night of her death, the local police returned to the girl’s village with her body, but instead of handing her over to her mourning family, it is said that her family was pressurised to cremate her body there and then. When the family refused, the police locked the family in their home, and burned her body in a nearby field without the family’s presence citing law and order problem. Preethi Lolaksha Nagaveni, Junior Fellow, writes how caste remains to be the root cause with untouchability being the ugliest form of casteism in India and makes a case for prosecuting the local administration for breach of law in the Hathras case. Source: https://www.firstpost.com/india/hathras-gang-rape-case-law-allows-district-collector-police-officials-to-be-booked-for-destruction-of-evidence-insulting-dead-bodyhathras-gang-rape-case-law-allows-district-collector-police-offic-8873121.html
The term ‘harmful traditional practice’ is often used to denote various forms of violence against young girls and women such as female genital mutilation, honour killings, child marriage that are committed in societies which are governed by patriarchal values and beliefs. These varied forms of violence against women are often justified in the name of tradition and culture by the perpetrators and are condoned by the society at large. In India, where gender hierarchy is believed to be the norm, women have struggled for equal rights in the past and they still continue to do so. In addition, in the Indian society, religious, cultural and traditional aspects have been found to play a fundamental role in shaping the entire discourse on women and their rights. Although, the Indian Constitution guarantees equal rights for all, however, in practice, the subordination of women continues to exist in society mostly because of customary practices that advocate gender discrimination. Harmful traditional practices that are condemned by feminist scholars as oppressive in nature, demonstrate how gender is used to build hierarchies and clearly mark out the difference in power relations between men and women. But, this distortion of gender either remains hidden or is ignored despite repeated incidents of violence against women that are carried out in the name of socio-cultural norms. The devadasi system is one such form of traditional harmful practice which is prevalent in the southern part of India. Under the devadasi system, young girls belonging to the dalit community are ‘married’ to a Hindu deity and then sexually exploited by temple priests and members of the higher caste. As noted by Tori, ‘The dedication usually occurs before the girl reaches puberty and requires the girl to become sexually available for community members. Traditionally, it is believed that these girls are “serving” society as “ordained” by the goddess. In other words, “the devadasis are courtesans in God’s court”. Due to her sacred condition and her belonging to the divinity, a devadasi cannot be married to one particular man. Instead, she is a property of a divinity that benevolently concedes her to the whole community. This concept is well summarized by a saying that: “a devadasi is servant of God but wife of the whole town.”’ The devadasi system is a socio-cultural practice that exists mostly in the southern states of India (namely Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu). The system is believed to have been originated sometime in the 5th century AD. As noted above, most devadasis are dalit women and the caste factor is an essential feature of this practice. Further, according to a report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, New Delhi, the social and religious custom of devadasi victimises dalit women in India. For example, as per the National Commission for Women there are 250,000 devadasis belonging to the dalit community along the Karnataka-Maharashtra state border alone. Note that, there is no nation-wide law in India against dedicating young girls
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives of everyone in India, but some sections of the society face more risks than others. While the poor and underprivileged are more disproportionately afflicted by the crisis, there is hardly any mention of the pandemic’s negative impact on the lives of women. Following the implementation of a nation-wide lockdown on March 25th, women who are forced to remain inside their homes are at a higher risk of facing domestic violence.
My current research and my work at the moment as a caseworker, centres on women’s rights in South Asia, looking how judicial decision making can improve through viewing cases of human rights abuse from a glocal to global lens.