A Scream In The Silence

A horrific gangrape in Rajasthan raised a rare tide of support for the victim, says MITA KAPUR

THERE WERE about a hundred and fifty of them. Heads covered in flaming reds, burnt oranges, shocking pinks to hide their faces. Arms raised and fists curled tight. One breast-fed her child as she joined the chorus, “Para Devi ko nyay do, nyay do. Hosh mein aao, hosh mein aao.” The woman next to me murmured quietly, “There was no such demonstration when I was raped. I walked 11km all alone that night.”

Reality is known to be stark but this was in the face. But which was more in the face — those 150-odd women from Chandlai, Bir Santoshpura, Rampura, Sikar in their ghunghats, shouting for Para’s rights at Chaksu thana, or the woman who lived with the silence that raped her further?

Those gathered that day gave voice to a sense of group and selfidentity, an awareness that justice was being denied and that they weren’t minions to the limbo of denial that most surrender themselves to. Indenting the two realities was a group of men who had gathered around to ‘look’ and to snigger: “What are you going to get out of all this naarebaazi?”

On June 23, Para, a Dalit daily wage labourer from Santoshpura, left home for work at 8am with her husband, Ranglal. Feeling unwell during the day, she set out for the hospital; on the way, her neighbour Kalu Ram offered her a ride in his car. Two other men, Harsahai and Kajod, were in the same car and three others, Sohan Lal, Indraraj and Jagdish, were later picked up. For the next three days, the six men drove Para from village to village, raping her in turn. When she protested, they beat her; when she asked for water, they gave her country liquor mixed with Limca. She was made to urinate in the car and given no food.

On June 26, Para was dropped, wounded, torn, only half-conscious, at the Phagi bus stand with Rs 20 and a threat not to open her mouth or her family would be killed. When her husband tried to lodge an FIR, he was turned away; the complaint was registered only after the intervention of the state Women’s Commission. Even then, Para, her husband and uncles had to sit outside the thana for six hours; the police also tried to get them to water down their statement with comments like: “There is no need to say everything,” and “Para, you ran away with them, they didn’t abduct you.”

Dalit women are 16.3 percent of the Indian female population, i.e. one in every 12 Indians. The moment they demand a recognition of their rights, they face a fresh spate of degradation and cruelty for raising their voices. Certain kinds of violence are exclusively reserved for Dalit women — extreme verbal abuse, naked parading, dismemberment, being forced to drink urine and eat faeces. Police statistics averaged over the last five years show that 13 Dalits are murdered, six are kidnapped, five Dalit homes burnt and 13 Dalit women are raped everyday. And these figures take no account of the fact that most anti-Dalit crimes aren’t even reported.

Of Para’s six rapists, only two were arrested at first. After the dharna outside the Chaksu thana, the police was forced to take action to arrest the others, but all of them are out now on bail. Para and her family live in fear of social boycott and have no work—their village has 20 families from the Bairwa scheduled caste, all of them under the poverty line. Economically, socially and politically challenged, they don’t have ration cards and don’t know what a voters’ list is.The village response to Para’s gangrape has been a systematic crushing of the spirit, a continuance of the culture of silence. Within her family, however, she has received the support that normally is hard to come by for a woman in our society. Says her husband, “We will fight and face all pressures.”

If that kind of positive change is taking place in the mindset of those who are the targets of inhumanity, why is it not possible to make the police and the courts more humane and faster at their work?

TRACING the writing of the Constitution, Ramchandra Guha’s book, India After Gandhi, describes it as a liberal, humanist credo which protects numerous basic rights, but has also provided reservation for “untouchables”. Scholars like Sunil Khilnani argue that by identifying caste as an organising principle in India, Nehru and his allies inadvertently laid the ground for a more schismatic political culture and a greater discrimination towards the ‘lower castes’. To take it for granted that India’s social psychology did not need to and would not ever evolve out of its caste prejudices was a trifle short-sighted. If, after 60 years, we have reached a saturation point where crimes against the underprivileged are on an ugly incline, wasn’t a more futuristic stand required? Now that the Constitutional deed is done, what is being done to bring about humanistic amendments and a more user-friendly implementation of the law?

Published on : Tehelka.com

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