Silence is Not An Option

Shiv Shankar

    "... widely reported cases as that of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Banwasa village in Sonepat district, who was raped by four men over four days last September. A Dhanuk (Dalit), like Manju and Dharampal, she reported the rape to the police only to be put, along with her family, under so much duress by the panchayats of the villages the accused men belonged to that she caved to the pressure and changed her statement. On 24 April, she was sentenced to 10 days in prison for perjury. ... Colin Gonsalves, Supreme Court lawyer and founder-director of the Human Rights Law Network recently ruffled feathers at a gender rights conference in New Delhi by making the polemical argument that the only way to reform the police would be to sack over half the personnel. Gonsalves is handling several Haryana rape cases, including Manju, and frequently attends AIDMAM and NACDOR meetings. He explains how the police systematically collude with the upper-caste accused. Of course, the policemen generally come from these same subcastes. Knowing this, manyDalits don even report crimes. ".."

    Silence Is Not An Option

    In caste-ridden Haryana, Dalit women fight back by speaking out. An exclusive ground report by Aradhna Wal. Photos by Ankit Agrawal

    On a muggy monsoon evening in a tiny village in Haryana, 16-year-old Manju*, her voice steady and clear, recounts the story of the day she was raped. It is a story that in its horrifying essentials can be heard in villages across the state, across, for that matter, the country. On 6 August 2012, Manju, a Dalit from Kalsi village in Karnal district, was waylaid on her way to school. Two men, Ajay and Krishen, from the upper-caste Rod community, allegedly forced her into their car and took turns to rape her. Warning her to hold her tongue, they dumped her near her school.

    It took Manju two weeks to admit to her mother that she had been raped. Her mother already knew. A neighbour implicated in the crime allegedly gloated about her role in the rape, gloated about Manju’s lost honour. Manju’s mother was steadfast in her support for her daughter. Accounts differ about who said what but the upshot is that less than a month after the gangrape, Manju’s mother disappeared.

    On 3 September, her body was found in a ditch next to a small canal that runs by the village. Like her daughter, she too had been gangraped. Her murderers, allegedly her daughter’s rapists, had thrown acid on her and strangled her with her own chunni.

    It’s hard to look Manju in the eye when she tells you her story, though she compels you to by having no trouble looking you directly in the eye. Her tone is matter of fact, a product of recounting these same events to a barrage of police, lawyers and activists. Her face is pale and since the rape she has fallen ill with alarming frequency. But her voice doesn’t waver, breaking slightly only when she talks about her mother.

    Ordinarily, Manju’s story might just have been filed away as another statistic in a state full of terrible crimes against women and Scheduled Castes (to be both is deadly), but she decided to do something radical — seek justice and redress. She is now part of a more heartening statistic, that of young Dalit women in small clusters across Haryanawho are standing up and speaking out against the caste-based discrimination and violence that blights their lives.

    There is a change happening in Dalit communities,” observes Brinda Karat, CPM leader and vice-president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). “It stems from young Dalit girls who are challenging the status quo, unlike their parents 10 years ago.” These girls are taking on an entire, entrenched culture of bigotry as individuals and as community organisers, fighting for the right to education, to dignity of labour, to not be silenced. It is a fierce and necessary resistance.

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