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India’s justice system is failing survivors of caste-based sexual violence

NEW DELHI, INDIA, Nov 25, 2020 – A new report reveals how India’s justice system is failing survivors of caste-based sexual violence. Men from dominant castes frequently use sexual violence as a weapon to reinforce repressive caste and gender hierarchies, relying on a culture of impunity whereby perpetrators go unpunished and survivors and the families of victims struggle to access justice.

Justice Denied: Sexual Violence & Intersectional Discrimination – Barriers to Accessing Justice for Dalit Women and Girls in Haryana, Indiaexamines 40 rape cases involving women and girls from the Dalit community in India’s northern state of Haryana.

The report was produced in collaboration between Swabhiman Society, a grassroots organization led by Dalit women, and international women’s rights organization Equality Now, and includes recommendations for the state and national government on tackling caste-based sexual violence.

According to government data, around ten Dalit women and girls are raped daily across India. However, the real figure is estimated to be far higher as only a small proportion of crimes are reported, and conviction rates remain abysmally low. 

The Dalit community resides at the lowest rung of India’s caste hierarchy – a class system that categorizes people into groups and imposes a rigid social status. India’s law prohibits discrimination based on caste or gender. However, our research has uncovered systemic problems with prejudice, patriarchy, and corruption. 

Only 10% of cases examined ended with the successful conviction of all those charged, and this was just with particularly abhorrent crimes involving a victim who was murdered or under age six. 

In almost 90% of cases, at least one of the accused was from a dominant caste. Perpetrators often acted in groups and attacks tended to incorporate more severe forms of sexual violence, including gang-rape and murder. 

The police frequently failed to record or investigate crimes when initially reported and were sometimes abusive or put pressure on survivors to drop cases. Survivors were not given adequate advice about their legal rights, and some did not receive compensation payments they were entitled to. 

Survivors, family members, and witnesses also faced threats, coercion, and bribery from perpetrators and members of the wider community seeking to stop prosecutions. In almost 60% of cases, the survivor or her family was pressured into withdrawing from pursuing a legal case and had to accept a ‘compromise’ settlement outside the legal system.

Equality Now’s Eurasia Director Jacqui Hunt explains: “Dalit women’s bodies are being used to assert caste supremacy and keep women “in their place”. Perpetrators from dominant castes know they are likely to go unpunished because every branch and echelon of the system is weighted in their favor, and this impunity for rape creates an enabling environment that fosters further abuse.”

Manisha Mashaal, the founder of Swabhiman Society, states: “One of the biggest challenges in cases of sexual violence is that survivors or the families are pressured into compromises with the accused. Community and social pressure plays a major role in impeding access to justice in such cases. Another issue is the lack of quality and effective systems in place to provide the survivors of violence and their families with immediate social, legal, and mental health support along with proper and timely rehabilitation.”

“It is critical that the barriers to justice faced by Dalit women and girls at the ground level are brought to the attention of our society and government so that caste-based violence is recognized, space is created for Dalit voices to be heard, and collective action is taken towards ensuring justice to the survivors and their families.”


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