The horror of a young woman being gang raped twice in three years by the same men is beyond words. How could this have happened, and what could have emboldened these five men from committing the same heinous crime without any fear of the law, which provides for repeat offenders to be sentenced to death?
Three factors have contributed to the impunity with which the crime has been committed. The first is that the survivor is a poor Dalit woman, which in practice means that justice is beyond her reach. The second is that the five men, who allegedly raped her last week, had nothing to fear because nothing happened to any of them when they were accused of the same crime three years ago, in 2013. And the third is the bane of patriarchy which poisons every institution in our country, including the criminal justice system.
"Patriarchy will live only through violence against women," said Human Rights lawyer Vrinda Grover. "When patriarchy converges with caste, then it is violence unlimited, and the state is complicit in it."
From the time of registering a case and conducting an investigation to arguing against bail when the accused clearly poses a threat to the survivor, and then securing a conviction, the police and public prosecutors are failing to do their job despite the fact that there are enough laws to effectively counter sexual violence.
What we know so far about this case is that three of the five men accused of raping the 20-year-old Dalit woman in Bhiwani, Haryana in 2013 were never arrested, but it isn't clear why. Two men were released on bail after being arrested. Even when the family complained about receiving threats to agree to an out-of-court settlement, the police did not provide them with security. When the family filed a case to rearrest the two men who were out on bail, and arrest the men previously released, the police didn't act.
To escape shame and ostracisation, it was the woman's family which moved to Rohtak, but nothing has come of the Dalit woman's 2013 case against the three upper caste men and the two Dalit men. So it really shouldn't come as a surprise that they were brazen enough to rape her a second time in order to "punish" her, knowing fully well that she can identify them.
"The state is involved in punishing the woman," said Ranjana Kumari, who heads the Centre for Social Research in Delhi. "There is no semblance of law enforcement."
Earlier this year, the Haryana police stubbornly denied that several women were raped in the fields near the National Highway in Murthal, Haryana, until the Punjab and Haryana High Court instructed the state to investigate the matter. Last month, the High Court said that there is "no doubt" that this horrific crime did take place when the state was besieged by Jat violence.
While every Indian woman lives in fear of sexual violence, there is no community which has a harder time accessing justice than Dalit women. More than four women are raped every day in India, but the conviction rate is close to nil.
In 2012, The Indian Express reported that rapes involving Dalit women in Haryana have been steadily rising, but the number of convictions has been falling. In 2014, rape of Dalit women in Gujarat had increased by 500 percent since 2001.
"Men in this country, especially upper caste men, believe that they are entitled to the bodies of Dalit women," Grover said. The 20-year-old Dalit woman, she said, "is being punished for accessing her rights."
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