05/10/2020 8:35 PM IST | Updated 05/10/2020 9:54 PM IST

The Idea of India: Dalit Lives Matter

The forced cremation of a Dalit woman marked a new and macabre low for India.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
A demonstrator with a placard that reads "Dalit Lives Matter" in a protest against the Hathras incident at Jantar Mantar, on October 4, 2020 in New Delhi.

Welcome to the latest instalment of The Idea of IndiaHuffPost India’s monthly conversation about how we see ourselves as a people and as a nation.‌

In this instalment, we consider the alleged rape, murder, and forced cremation of a 20-year-old Dalit woman—the incident and its aftermath have outraged millions of Indians; galvanised even some media outlets that rarely criticise the Modi regime; and rattled the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government, which now surprisingly finds itself on the back foot after bullying and jailing its detractors for three years.

This, the rape and murder of another Dalit woman last week, and more over the summer, have brought home once again the horrors of gender and caste violence. The forced cremation of the dead woman by the UP Police without her family’s permission and presence marked a new and macabre low. The BJP government in UP then barricaded the village and stopped the family from speaking to reporters or opposition leaders. Now, the police and the Thakurs, the community to which the four alleged culprits belong, are contesting whether the woman was even raped. But UP is not alone in these horrors. The latest crime data shows that Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra are hotspots for crimes against women, particularly Dalit women. Kerala has the highest number of rape incidents per 1,00,000 Dalits.

88 rape cases were reported every day in 2019. 10 cases of rape of Dalit women were reported every day.

The forced cremation marked a new and macabre low.

‘We Did Not Even See Her Once’

In this interview, hours after his sister was cremated by the UP Police without her family’s permission, her 28-year-old brother said, “They were not letting anyone near the ambulance.”

“We did not even get to see her face once,” he said. “We don’t even know if the person they cremated was my sister.”

‘We Are At A Crossroads’

Ruth Manorama, a veteran Dalit rights activist who founded the National Federation of Dalit women in 1995, said that after four decades of activism, she finds herself at a crossroad, wondering where the solutions lie. Seventy years after Independence, a Dalit political movement is yet to take root and Indians have resisted enabling a casteless society. “Endless poverty,” Manorama said, made it easy for the subjugation to continue. Even Dalit lawmakers, Manorama said, were relegated within their own parties.

“Dalit women are like fodder in all kinds of atrocities. They violate Dalit women’s dignity in order to shame the whole community,” said Manorama. “Caste is so entrenched in the Indian spine that even if you have law, even if there is a Constitution, people will treat vulnerable people in a wretched way.”

Can We Please Not Call The Hathras Rape ‘The Nirbhaya Of Hathras’?

Dalit writer Riya Singh asks that the young woman from Hathras not be called the “Nirbhaya of Hathras,” referring to the 23-year-old physiotherapy student whose death after she was gang-raped by five men in 2012 in Delhi sparked massive protests and changes in India’s rape laws.

Singh says this comparison downplays the role of caste and its implications for Dalit women. “The atrocities on Dalit women are part of the wider problem where the society refuses to acknowledge it as a special caste related problem, and the state machinery is complicit with the criminals,” she writes.

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‌Please do share your thoughts: What is your Idea of India? Write to me at betwa.sharma@huffpost.in.

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