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Addressing Sexual Violence Against Marginalized Communities in India

What is the problem? 

Women and girls from minoritized communities in India face intersectional discrimination based on their caste and tribal/ethnic identities respectively. Data from the National Family Health Survey shows for example that Adivasi and Dalit women face the highest rates of sexual violence in the country. 

Official data shows that 3,372 cases of rape against Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and 1,137 cases of rape against Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) were recorded in 2020. Even these alarming figures are a gross underestimate as rape cases are severely under-reported, particularly in respect of women and girls discriminated against based on caste or tribe. 

We know that women and girls across India face severe obstacles to accessing justice, including the illegal use of the two-finger vaginal test to “prove” rape, and discriminatory and patriarchal attitudes, including of the police, which often leads to impunity for perpetrators. These obstacles are compounded by caste and tribal discrimination, leaving Dalit and Adivasi women and girls too often unable to access justice. 

The barriers to accessing justice make it highly unlikely that the perpetrators of sexual violence will be prosecuted or convicted. This impunity must be addressed and prevention and response to sexual violence cases drastically improved to end this cycle of violence.

Explore our 2020 report, Justice Denied: Sexual Violence & Intersectional Discrimination – Barriers to Accessing Justice for Dalit Women and Girls in Haryana, India

Immediate action is needed to secure justice, particularly looking at the additional vulnerabilities of marginalized populations. 

What does the law say? 

The Indian constitution guarantees the right to equality and equal protection of the law and forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. 

Despite this, Dalit and Adivasi women and girls continue to face intersectional discrimination when seeking justice, not just from within the justice system itself, but also from their community and wider society. 

What is Equality Now doing to address sexual violence against marginalized communities in India? 

Together with partners, we’re calling on national and state-level governments in India to take immediate action to: 

  • Increase police accountability and provision of effective victim and witness protection
  • Address impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence particularly when they are from dominant castes
  • Take steps to limit community intervention in cases of sexual violence, including by banning khap panchayats
  • Combat the intersectional forms of discrimination faced by Dalit women and girls while dealing with law enforcement officials
  • Improve resourcing and utilization of existing funds for sexual violence prevention and response programs.

We have also released a full set of recommendations to address caste-based sexual violence in partnership with the National Council for Women Leaders, Equality Labs, and the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network. 

Explore Eliminating Caste-Based Sexual Violence In India – Recommendations For The Prevention Of Sexual Violence Against Dalit Women And Girls.

In Haryana state, we’re working with our partner, Swabhiman Society, to address caste-based sexual violence, including through supporting its work at the grassroots level, providing legal and paralegal support in cases of sexual violence against Dalit women and girls. 

In 2020 we released a report analyzing the outcomes of 40 cases supported by Swabhiman Society to uncover specific barriers to justice and advocate for change. We are continuing to work together to advocate with government authorities in Haryana to adopt the recommendations of our report and improve access to justice for Dalit women and girls. 

We are also working with grassroots activists and organizations in a number of other states to advocate for improved prevention and response to cases of sexual violence, particularly against marginalized communities.