WSS Statement Condemning Barbaric Sexual Assault and Murder of Dalit and Adivasi Minor Girls In Tamil Nadu
15th November 2018
WSS strongly condemns the barbaric assault and murder of a minor dalit girl in the outskirts of Salem district in Tamil Nadu on October 22nd 2018 by her upper caste neighbor and the brutal murder of an adivasi girl in Dharmapuri on November 10th 2018.
In Salem, a man from the dominant Mudaliar caste had made sexual advances towards the victim, Rajalakshmi, which she had refused, and later reported to her mother. A student of class 8, Rajalakshmi was the daughter of a graveyard worker, native of village Thalavaipatti Theruku Kaadu near Attur, Salem district. Since she was 9 years old, she had been facing sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances and abuse at the hands of her upper caste Mudaliar neighbor who is now 26. Everyone in the village was aware of the sexual abuse she had been facing, yet no one dared to confront the perpetrator.
Rajalakshmi’s house was right in front of perpetrator’s house and she was asked to do odd jobs at the perpetrators house (such as baby sit the perpetrator’s child, help in household chores) even though she didn’t like doing it and her family expressed reservations about it. She was compelled to do it due to her caste. This reveals the mired ways in which caste intertwines with patriarchy and the exploitation of labour in our society. The most vicious ways in which this power drawn from caste asserts itself is evident on the lives and bodies of dalit women; and, in this case, a dalit child. The extremity of this violence doesn’t end with murder, but is further stretched into the discourse that surrounds the reporting of the act, and the action taken by the police and the apathy reflected in the working of the State machinery and society at large. For several days following the incident, the police were ‘mulling’ applying POCSO charges, and the media carried headlines that betrayed the casteist nature of the crime while reporting in ways that revealed its deliberate caste-blindness. By focusing solely on the gore and brutality of the machete used to kill, in the media the murder has been reported variously as “13-year-old dalit girl was beheaded by a driver” which in many ways cleverly inverts the assertion of power in the name of caste to making it appear that it was in fact the working class identity of the perpetrator that reflects the nature of the crime. In another instance, a headline reads “Caste crime or Sex crime”, revealing a refusal to see how these two are invariably and intrinsically linked. The other important aspect to look at in relation to such brutal acts of sexual violence formatted by caste and patriarchy is the impunity that often accompanies it – the fact that no one from the village dared to speak out all these years, the fact that a dominant caste man can walk in with a machete and murder a 13 year old dalit child for refusing his sexual advances, the fact that the crime can be reported in so many ways, the caste-hatred underlying the act, and the fact that the police can ‘mull over’ charges instead of taking decisive action all point to a certain impunity that is characteristic of acts of sexual violence, and especially those that are informed by caste.
Despite this, it is important to note that the young girl was brave enough to share her ordeal with her mother. This was her #MeToo story if you like. But the rage that was generated came not in support of her, but against her. On the 22nd of October, the girl’s neighbour, perpetrator of sexual harassment barged through the doors of her house of with his feudal caste-patriarchal force, with a machete in hand. The girl and her mother were stringing flowers by thread and her father was in the graveyard at the time. The perpetrator hurled casteist abuses at both of them, called them out by their caste name “Parachi” (they belong to Parayar community and the slang is used by the upper castes in a derogatory manner to insult women in this community) and attacked the girl. When the mother resisted, he smashed her head against the wall and she fell unconscious. Then he fatally attacked the girl with a sickle. Just to make sure that she was dead he slit her throat, beheaded her and carried her head outside where his wife and brother in law were waiting. Then, his wife advised him to discard the head, so he threw her head on the road. Eventually, the perpetrator along with his wife and brother-in-law went to the police station where he surrendered. Eventually, an FIR was filed against the accused under section 302 of IPC, Prevention of Atrocities Act (Scheduled Caste and Schedued Tribes) Act, 1989, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Trafficking Offenders, Slum Grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982. Also, the wife of the accused argued that her husband his mentally unstable. The police, on the other hand, have claimed that there is no indication of physical or mental impairment of the accused. The imbalance is starkly apparent when we note that the family of the slain girl does not own the land where their house stands, while the perpetrator belongs to an upper caste community. This explains the reason for the indifference of the administration in this case. Here, it is important to note that it was due to the interventions of local activists that this case came to light.
This barbaric incident reflects the dominance and hegemony of the upper caste feudal men over dalit and other marginalised women. This incidence reveals the ways in which the voices of dalit and other marginalised women (especially in the rural settings) have historically been silenced; by violating their bodies and the sense of their ‘self’. But, what is more alarming is that because of the Brahmanical and casteist formations of our villages, law enforcement agencies, our movement spaces and media outlets; dalit and other marginalised women and girls become the ‘other’ of the woman with agency and are reduced to the status of abject figures, not because they don’t speak, but because we don’t listen!
The history of sexual violence against women, particularly women belonging to marginalised castes and classes, is inexcusably long, brutal and a blot on the democratic spirit of equality. While the institutions of caste and patriarchy have lasted for millennia rearing its violent head often, it may be pertinent to note that, crimes against dalits and adviasis have increased after 2014. From 2011 to 2013, the crime against dalits and adivasis were recorded as 106782, but it shot up to 119872 cases from 2014 to 2016. Also, the rate of conviction during the current government’s regime has plunged. In 2011 the rate of conviction was 32 percent, but it decreased significantly (to nearly 25%) in the following years. In Tamil Nadu the number of offences registered under Prevention of Atrocities (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Act, 1989 plummeted as in 2016, 1291 cases were registered but in 2015, 1782 cases were registered. Although, the conviction rate in 2016 of offences registered under Prevention of Atrocities (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Act, 1989 is 11.1 % which is quite below the national average. While both the mainstream political parties AIADMK and DMK claim to be giving a voice and working in the interest of marginalised communities, yet we have consistently and continuously witnessed incidents of caste violence in the state. This not only points to the fallacy of the claims made by these political parties and but also reveals the precariousness of lives and the lack of dignity accorded to dalits and adivasis in the state.
A few days ago, on the 10th of November, a 16-year-old tribal girl was raped and murdered in Dharmapuri. Villagers have been protesting, refusing to take back the young girl’s body until their demands are met and perpetrators are caught. The list of such incidents in Tamil Nadu is reflective of the false commitments made by the political class. Over the last few years, we have also witnessed efforts to dilute the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and, most recently, repression of democratic rights activists in the Bhima Koregaon case who have voiced the concerns of dalits and adivasis. This shows the casteist and patriarchal nature of the present regime that has conveniently ‘othered’ dalits, adivasis and minority communities through a campaign of hate and fear.
In such a situation, it is mostly the dalit and adivasi women who face the brunt of it as they are subjected to multiple forms of violence within our society and in institutional spaces. Constant and continuous sexual harassment and sexual violence faced by minor girls and, shockingly, their brutal murder for speaking out against sexual harassment or resisting advances, the lack of institutional response to the incident are evidence of multiple forms of violence faced by all marginalised girls and women and reflects the complicity of the privileged in the intersections of the margins and power.
Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that we are living in the times of #MeToo, where women have crossed the barricades of shame and have come out naming their perpetrators, sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and violence. They are speaking out about the ordeals that they have experienced at their workplace because of a concentration of power in the hands of few men in position of power at the institutions where they have worked. In some cases, our institutions have been forced to take some actions against the perpetrator or condemn the sexual harassment in Bollywood, media and human rights organisations. #MeToo has created a buzz in the media, workplaces and movement spaces itself.
However, one wonders where that rage is when it comes to the brutal murder of a minor dalit girl in Thalavaipatti Theruku Kaadu village of Tamilnadu or the adivasi girl in Dharmapuri? Where is the anguish and sense of loss of the collective conscience of the nation, the government, media groups, the majority of women’s groups, child rights groups, democratic rights and human rights groups? Some groups working in Tamil Nadu and a few other national groups have raised the issue and have condemned the brutal murder. We acknowledge and support their efforts. However, we must admit that violence suffered by dalit women and their voices against oppression and exploitation is seldom given the importance it deserves in institutional and movement spaces. Most unsurprisingly, the voices of dalit, adivasi and other marginalised women and girls are largely ignored by the government.
We have been witness to these patterns of silencing dissent in many other cases in the past. It is important to remember the Khairlanji violence (2006) where a dalit family was brutally assaulted, subjected to brutal sexual violence and all (except one family member) were murdered. The government and police administration left no stone unturned to ensure the denial of justice in this case. Media took note of this violence nearly after a month when protests broke out. The government suppressed the protest using force. And, there was hardly any condemnation of violence by the democratic rights and human rights groups, women’s groups except a few groups working with dalit and marginalised communities. This shows the apathy and casteist nature of our government institutions, media and even some ‘progressive’ spaces. Instead of being discussed on national media or causing a stir in other institutions and even movement spaces, the violence and suffering perpetrated on the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of society, rural dalit women and girls in particular, is restricted to being contained in the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) records as numerical data only to be used in research projects by researchers to support their hypotheses on caste and gender in India.
Over the years, we have heard the voices of women belonging to privileged castes and classes when they speak of experiences of sexual violence and exploitation. Off late, with the #MeToo movement, we have found these voices being heard and finding solidarity from across society leading to rallying cries demanding justice. But it is starkly contrasted by the experiences of women belonging to marginalised castes and classes. The voices of women experiencing multiple oppressions of gender, caste and class are regularly negated by the logic of dominance and power.
WSS whole-heartedly supports all voices being raised against all forms of sexual violence and abuse, particularly those that come from the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of society. WSS strongly condemns the brutal murder of dalit and adivasi minor girls. WSS also expresses a grave disappointment in the deafening silence of women’s and child rights groups and democratic and human rights groups on this incidence. We stand in solidarity with the families that have lost their young and aspiring children. WSS also stands in solidarity with all such voices of marginalised dalit, adivasi, backward castes, minority and differently-abled women whose agency is repeatedly denied, who do not always have the luxury of access to justice and judicial institutions, and who, when they courageously speak out against such violence, violations and harassment, are further subjected to violence of the most lethal kind. We also stand in solidarity with the groups who have come out and condemned the attack.
That the role of the perpetrator’s wife and brother in law is investigated immediately.
That the victim’s family especially her mother be given protection as victim’s mother is an eyewitness to the crime and both her parents are potential witnesses for the criminal case which has been registered.
The victim’s family should be given adequate support i.e., compensation, psychological support (if needed) and legal support to pursue the case.
Superintendent of Police, District Collector be booked for dereliction of duty and for not taking the responsibility by being silent over this crime.
Accountability and responsibility be taken by the politicians MP, MLA and the CM who is also the Chairperson of State level vigilance and monitoring committee for SC/ST POA Act.
- Immediate intervention by National Commission of Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and National Commission of Women.
Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
Convenors – Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin and Shalini; Email – firstname.lastname@example.org