Crimes against the historically marginalized Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by the upper caste represents an extreme form of prejudice and discrimination. Similar to the hate crimes in other parts of the world, these groups have remained target to the crimes and atrocities at the hands of the upper caste people mainly on account of their-low caste identity in the form of rape, abuse by police personnel, harassment, illegal land encroachments, forced evictions and so on.
According to the Annual Crime in India Report 2019 published by the National Crimes Records Bureau, a crime against Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribe has been recorded an increase of over 7% and 26% respectively in the year 2019. The same report also produced that 88 rape cases are recorded every day in India.
The point where we stand today is that people have left their essential human attitude towards these marginalized groups. Do you know that 56, 000 children living in slums die every year? There is a higher unemployment rate in the country than ever. An increase in criminal activities due to lockdown is already above and beyond par. Isn’t the time to cure such vulnerabilities of the economy than to create more problems towards these marginalized people.
Brutal instances of such as Dr. Payal Tadvi who died as she was harassed and tortured at her place of work, her medical institution based on her caste should be now redundant but is increasing day by day. Still, the poverty rate in India is 21.9% which is grossly understated. Among the lower castes, 81% of the STs, 66% of the SCs, and 58% of the OBCs live under the poverty line. On the other hand, the poverty level among the rest of the population is 33%. Therefore there lies not one problem with these communities but several such like poverty, illiteracy, awareness, health and sanitation, housing, and then above all harassment.
Laws Governing these Caste Based Violence
In India, there are no particular laws dedicated to hate crimes in general but there are laws dedicated to preventing atrocities against the members of marginalized castes, including their sexual assault that is Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act).
As reported by Human Rights Watch “Dalit women exist at the lowest end of gender’s class, caste hierarchies, and therefore upper caste men have used sexual violence as a tool against Dalit women as a means to inflict “political lessons and crush dissent and labour movements within Dalit communities”.
Having said that, India has a history of ignoring intersectionality in cases of sexual crimes against Dalit women. Not to forget, the Bhanwari Devi case which though led to the formation of Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act), 2013 but remarkable was where sessions court judge actually said that the Gujjars could not have raped a Dalit woman at the cost of defiling their caste purity. She had faced violence specifically due to her Dalit identity but courts completely ignored the caste-based violence she had faced.
Today the intersectionality of feminism demands that we look deeper into the root causes and context behind violent crimes against marginalized women. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we tailor our asks for accountability, redressal, and social change to the actual needs of marginalized women rather than just leaving them to the status quo.
In recent years, The Nribhaya case may have led the government to take several measures but that doesn’t mean there has been an increase in the conviction rates. As the NCRB data, 2018 shows only 25.5% of cases end in conviction. Though the criminal law amendment brought in 2013 was a step forward, but it has failed again to set the criminal justice system in motion meaning the police to conduct unbiased investigation then prosecute the accused and provide witness protection (before, during, and after the trial) to victims/survivors and their family members who most often are key witnesses in the criminal trials.
Following that there have been several important cases and convictions in recent times. Out of which criminal jurisprudence on the violence against minority women has also evolved and one of which is the Kathua Rape Case wherein on June 10, 2019, the verdict came in. It was the case of rape and murder of an 8-year nomadic girl. All the six accused were convicted. As per the charge sheet the abduction, rape, and killing of the child was part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, it said.
Next another example that could be cited is Unnao Rape Case wherein a teenager from a minority community was allegedly raped by the locally powerful four-term BJP MLA on the pretext of helping her get a job. The fist was again between the rich and poor, powerful and weak. Later these politicians killed the victim as well as the witnesses.
As the concluding point, it can be well established that economic position between lower castes and upper castes are positively correlated with changes in the incidence of crime. Therefore the largely violent crimes seek to deprive the victim of his property, symbolic of his material progress. It is recommended to strengthen the judicial response to caste-based atrocities to serve as an effective deterrent for the perpetrators and to attempt to establish a broader anti-discriminatory climate in the country.
Failures in the filing, investigating, and pursuing cases empower potential perpetrators by signaling that crimes against lower castes will go unpunished and also further disempowers marginalized communities by eroding their trust in the legal system. Moreover, a regular occurrence of such crimes may lead to secondary victimization i.e., it creates a sense of vulnerability and anxiety not just for the victim but also for the wider community.