Delhi, which erupted for the gang-rape of the physiotherapy student in December 2012, has not bothered to react.

Voices Thursday, June 05, 2014 - 05:30
D. Karthikeyan The News Minute | June 1, 2014 | 7 pm IST One of the most horrifying images of contemporary times is the image of two teenage Dalit girls’ bodies hanging from a mango tree after they were brutally raped in a remote village in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. In an era where social media takes centre-stage, the circulation of the image reached unprecedented levels thus making even the international media take note of the event and highlight them. The image clearly shows the world and us many realities, which include the prevalence of a casteist mindset, and prejudices in the Indian society against a particular class of people who form the major chunk of the labouring classes. The questions that remain in front of us at the moment are the ongoing debate on the circulation of images and its relevance and the multi-layered meanings in terms of social structures and questions of dominance and power relations that are embedded within the heinous act of rape against Dalit women. How do we perceive the dissemination of these images which has triggered heated debates on the social media, where Dalit commentators and supporters request to stop circulation of images of raped Dalit women terming it as pornography of violence and on the other hand, there were arguments put forth stating that the utilization of these images and its reproducibility to disseminate anger among the community is much needed. The Khairlanji massacre of November 2006 where a Buddhist family of four Dalits including mother and daughter were raped and killed was cited as an example by scholars of Dalit studies on how the circulation of images helped in the creation of a massive Dalit outrage that formed Dalit consciousness against violence in Maharashtra. The larger question here, is why is it that when it is about Dalit women, the media ignores questions of modesty but goes on with its constant obsessive replaying of imagery, which makes these women nothing but dehumanized commodities. But when it’s about caste Hindu women it’s a different sort of mediatization at work. This can be understood in the context of the immediate past referring to the case of Delhi gang rape victim where media came out with open statements explaining the need to protect the modesty of the victim. This is not an case in isolation but a continuation of the stereo-typification of Dalit women as the counter-image of caste Hindu women (upper-caste Brahmin women in particular) which forms part of the Indian literary and cultural tradition. The argument here is not against the efforts to protect the Delhi gang-rape victim’s modesty but the failure to do so in the case of the Dalit sisters in UP. How did the Media Report? Among the English language dailies Indian Express was the first to report the incident as it had carried the story on its Monday edition but did not mention the caste identity of the victim, as it was initial reports. For example the Chennai-based national daily, which reported about the incident only two days after it occurred and the report was confusing. It not only failed to mention that the victims were Dalits but used an overarching category like backward caste to define the Dalits and the perpetrators were found to be Yadavs, much visible through their surnames. What then is the sociological dynamics involved here? Is it necessary to use those horrific images and “frame the rape,” and is it important to disclose the caste identity of victim? In ordinary circumstances a rape is a rape, a heinous crime committed with an intent that could be more than just a sexual urge. However it could be a gross misreading if one attempts to read rape on the same lines in the case of Dalits. An otherwise “polluting untouchable” body is not polluting when it comes to penetration. A Dalit woman is raped to show that their men are castrated, to show that they are not men in the sense that they cannot protect them, so it operates on a question of collective subjectivity. It is both gendered and caste dynamics of power interplaying to reproduce the status of dominance that is marked on the bodies of Dalits. Caste violence including rape is not a spontaneous and unplanned action of caste Hindus but a well-designed assault. From the aggressor’s point of view violence is used basically to contain the agency of the Dalits that is often expressed in forms of violating the traditional caste rules and norms. Two forms of disciplining counter the violation of rules by Dalits. It takes shape in the form of material destruction like destroying the property burning the huts, looting the property etc. The other form of disciplining is the most important one as it takes a moral shape where the Dalit body becomes the target. This is done in forms of raping the women, undressing the women and parading them naked in the public squares, making the Dalit men to drink urine and shave their heads, beating them with brooms and chappals in public, etc. It is an assault against the moral life because it is a punishment for the community. The individual body becomes the target because he \she is seen as the bearer of community and its morals. The raped, decapitated and mutilated Dalit bodies at Khairlanji, Melavalavu (Tamil Nadu), Tsunduru (Andhra Pradesh) were to script the language of dominance, power, caste pride and were also a form of political communication. It reiterates that as against the Constitutional State this sense of de-facto sovereign power, the right to kill, punish and discipline with impunity in a highly hierarchical and caste-ridden society lies with the dominant castes which is palpable in village societies. The attack on the morality of the community is often defined in the terms of the manhood of the community. Rape within this context is the ultimate punishment for the women certainly but more importantly and symbolically for the men as it invokes the inability of the Dalit men to protect their women. These acts of violence on the body and the spectacle are not only to punish them but also discipline them. The November 2006 Khairlanji massacre’s entry into mainstream media was preceded by violent protests as the media had completely failed to report on the event and it was because of this, that the media took cognizance of the massacre almost after a month. Dalit leaders had used the stark images of the violence on Dalit bodies in the Khairlanji massacre to incite rage among the Dalit community. The involvement of policemen from the Yadav community in this heinous crime does indicate the political dynamics. Though it is said to be a Maurya-dominated village, the ruling Samajwadi Party which is predominantly a Yadav party and with men part of the government machinery supporting in the crime it is also a tale of expression of political power against the Dalits who happen to be major supporters of Bahujan Samaj Party the archrival of SP. (The Muaryas are a Kshatriya caste found mostly in UP and MP. Although Yadavs are a Shudra caste, they wield considerable political power and are also a land-owning caste.) This incident explicates the shocking level of barbarity displayed in the collective attack against helpless victims, as well as the alleged connivance of law-enforcers which reveals the depth of the institutionalization of caste prejudice in rural India. Urban silence More ghastly is the silence of the urban community over this shocking incident. Delhi, which erupted for the gang-rape of the physiotherapy student in December 2012, has not bothered to react. As one prominent feminist opined recently on the question of whether there is a percolation of the language of protest to incidents happening in rural areas, she replied, yes “their language has changed in terms of assertion which is more visible.” However, she refused to divulge the fact that the assertion of Dalits in rural areas was their own, and feminists in elite circles in Delhi weren’t much bothered as the month-long Bhagana rape protests indicate. This is yet another incident which shows how Gandhi’s much idealized village republics remain as spaces of appalling forms of caste violence and discrimination. This does not mean that such forms of caste violence do not happen in urban spaces but the intensity is much lesser and the fear of possible retaliation is there. After all B. R. Ambedkar was so right to say, “What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism? I am glad that the Draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit.” D. Karthikeyan is a PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh. He has authored essays for Deep Focus, Seminar and EPW and was formerly a Special Correspondent for The Hindu. The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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