Reasons behind Sexual violence in rural India

Synopsis– Women of rural India are becoming victims of hierarchies of caste, class, and patriarchy. We need to form a suitable policy that will tackle gender-based sexual violence in rural India.

Background- The Bhanwari Devi rape case in 1992 and the Khairlanji rape and massacre in 2006 to the Hathras case in 2020 shows that sexual violence against women is multi-dimentional issue, root of which lies in the hierarchies of caste, class, and gender.

How the issues related to caste, class, and gender promotes sexual violence in rural India? 

Sexual Violence against women in rural -India is linked with caste, caste and patriarchy in the following ways:

  • Firstly, Ancient social structure– Since ancient times, many things have changed but what has remained constant is rural India’s obsession with the caste order. The lower castes have served the upper castes while the upper castes work to keep the status quo. Violence becomes a tool of maintaining the status quo. 
  • Secondly, Tilted land reforms-In the political economy of post-Independence India, land is supreme. Land is class, power and honour. Its exclusive ownership is the basis of maintaining the caste order. Hence large landowners who were of dominant castes were the beneficiary and the landless labourers were of lower castes. 
  • Third, Political rise of lower castes– The Bahujan -Dalit political mobilization challenged this ancient hierarchy and with this, oppressed castes found themselves represented in positions of power.  
  • Fourth, Political pressure on police – Police officials mostly favour the dominant caste groups due to the pressure from the administration to not register sexual crimes under their jurisdiction, since these cases make them targets for transfers and dismissals.  

In the societies riddled with caste structure and patriarchy, women are considered as a symbol of family’s, a community’s, a caste’s honour. In these societies, sexual violence against the women of opposition becomes a tool of robbing them of their honour, to maintain the status quo of land and caste. 

During land disputes between two caste groups with a large differential of power and influence, women’s bodies become collateral damage.  

In conflicts among caste groups who are relatively close together in the caste (and class) order, women are used as a tool to tactically use the Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (outraging the modesty of a woman) to punish the other side. 

What are the steps required to be taken?  

To address the multi- dimensional issues related to sexual violence against women, we need to take the following actions. 

  • First- Along with police reform, caste discrimination, patriarchy and reforms in land ownership, we need to implement the policies related to women empowerment in both letter and spirit.
  • Second- We must take an intersectional approach that targets all of the issues.  
  • Third-Land ownership reform must tackle the irregularities of demarcation and the lack of proper records.  
  • Fourth-Sound policy involving all stakeholders should also tackle the illegal constructions on abadi land and banjar zameen.  
  • Fifth- The goal of annihilating caste cannot be achieved without mammoth efforts in educational, professional, and social integration of lower castes into every field, be it healthcare, judiciary, education, entertainment, or sports.

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Way Forward 

Along with the land and caste reforms, we must tackle the persistence of patriarchy in our society. “Women’s empowerment”  has now become just a phrase for political and corporate organisations. We must demand more representation of women in positions of power through reserved seats in MP, MLA, and MLC elections, or the judiciary and corporate boards.  

We need to work for quality sexual education and consent training for our youth, with the aim of preventing sexual assault and equalising and normalising healthy relations among members of different genders and sexes.

Lastly, we must bridge the gender divide in access to the transformative and emancipatory power of consumer technology.

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