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Gender and caste discrimination in India

By Graham Peebles-16 March 2014 A suffocating patriarchal shado hangs o!er the li!es of omen throughout "ndia# $rom all sections% castes and classes of society% omen are !ictim of its repressi!e% controlling effects# &hose sub'ected to the hea!iest burden of discrimination are from the (alit or )*cheduled +astes,% -no n in less liberal democratic times as the ).ntouchables,# &he name may ha!e been banned but per!asi!e negati!e attitudes of mind remain% as do the e/treme le!els of abuse and ser!itude e/perienced by (alit omen# &hey e/perience multiple le!els of discrimination and e/ploitation% much of hich is barbaric% degrading% appallingly !iolent and totally inhumane# 0omen and ).ntouchables, &he di!isi!e caste system 1 in operation throughout "ndia% )2ld, and )3e , 1 together ith ine4uitable gender attitudes% sits at the heart of the ide-ranging human rights abuses e/perienced by (alit or )outcaste, omen# (iscriminatory and cruel% inhuman% and degrading treatment of o!er 165 million people in "ndia has been 'ustified on the basis of caste%, according to 6uman 7ights 0atch86709# +aste refers to a traditional 6indu model of social stratification% hich defines people by descent and occupation# "t is defined as a system of graded inequality in which castes are arranged according to an ascending scale of reverence, and a descending scale of contempt i.e. as you go up the caste system, the power and status of a caste group increases and as you go down the scale the degree of contempt for the caste increases, as these castes have no power, are of low status, and are regarded as dirty and polluting. 6ence the term )untouchable,# (espite hat 3a!i Pillay% .nited 3ations 6igh +ommissioner for 6uman 7ights% states as "ndia:s )far-reaching constitutional guarantees and la s hich prohibit caste-based discrimination,% (alit omen are the !ictims of a collision of deep-rooted gender and caste discrimination% resulting in ide ranging e/ploitation# &hey are )oppressed by the broader "ndian society% men from their o n community and also their o n husbands and male members in the family,% according to the .3# Practices li-e (e!adasi, hereby girls as young as 12 years of age are dedicated to the 6indu

goddess ;ellamma and sold into prostitution< honour -illings< se/ual abuse% including rape< appalling or-ing conditions< and limited access to basic ser!ices such as ater% sanitation and employment are commonplace# Although all omen in "ndia face discrimination and se/ual intimidation% according to the .3 the )human rights of (alit omen are !iolated in peculiar and e/treme forms# *tripping% na-ed parading% caste abuses% pulling out nails and hair% se/ual sla!ery and bondage are a fe forms peculiar to (alit omen#, &hese omen li!e under a form of apartheid= discrimination% and social e/clusion is a ma'or factor% denying them access ,to common property resources li-e land% ater and li!elihood sources% >causing? e/clusion from schools% places of orship% common dining% inter-caste marriages,# &he lo er castes are segregated from other members of the community% prohibited from eating ith )higher, castes% from using !illage ells and ponds% entering !illage temples and higher caste houses% earing sandals or e!en holding umbrellas in front of higher castes< they are forced to sit alone and use different croc-ery in restaurants% prohibited from cycling a bicycle inside their !illage and are made to bury their dead in a separate burial ground# &hey fre4uently face e!iction from their land by higher )dominant, castes% forcing them to li!e on the outs-irts of !illages often on barren land# &his plethora of pre'udice amounts to apartheid% and it is time 1 long o!erdue 1 that the )democratic, go!ernment of "ndia enforced e/isting legislation and purged the country of the criminality of caste- and gender-based discrimination and e/ploitation# @/ploitation and patriarchal po er &he po er play of patriarchy saturates e!ery area of "ndian society and gi!es rise to a !ariety of discriminatory practices% such as female infanticide% discrimination against girls and do ry-related deaths# "t is a ma'or cause of e/ploitation and abuse of omen% ith a great deal of se/ual !iolence being perpetrated by men in positions of po er# &hese range from higher caste men !iolating lo er caste omen% specifically (alits< policemen mistreating omen from poor households< and military men abusing (alit and Adi!asi omen in insurgency states such as Aashmir% +hhatisgarh% Bhar-hand% 2rissa and Manipur# *ecurity personnel are protected by the idely criticiCed Armed $orces *pecial Po ers Act% hich grants impunity to police and members of the military carrying out criminal acts of rape and indeed murder< it as promulgated by the British in 1D42 as an emergency measure% to suppress the Euit "ndia Mo!ement. "t is an un'ust la % hich needs abolishing# "n (ecember 2012 the heinous gang rape and mutilation of a 2F-year-old paramedical student in 3e (elhi% ho subse4uently died from her in'uries% garnered orld ide media attention% thro ing a momentary spotlight on the dangers% oppression and appalling treatment omen in "ndia face e!ery day# 7ape is endemic in the country#According to "ndia:s 3ational +rime 7ecords Bureau 83+7B9% registered rape cases increased by almost D00 per cent o!er the last 40 years% to 24%206 incidents in 2011# 0ith most cases of rape going unreported and many being dismissed by police% the true figure could be 10 times this# &he omen most at ris- of abuse are (alits= the 3+7B estimates that more than four (alit- omen are raped e!ery day in "ndia# A .3

study re!eals that )the ma'ority of (alit omen report ha!ing faced one or more incidents of !erbal abuse 862#4 per cent9% physical assault 854#G per cent9% se/ual harassment and assault 846#G per cent9% domestic !iolence 84F#0 per cent9 and rape 82F#2 per cent9,# &hey are sub'ected to )rape% molestation% -idnapping% abduction% homicide physical and mental torture% immoral traffic and se/ual abuse#, &he .3 found that large numbers ere obstructed from see-ing 'ustice= in 1H per cent of instances of !iolence 8including rape9 !ictims ere obstructed from reporting the crime by the police< in o!er 25 per cent of cases the community stopped omen filing complaints< and in o!er 40 per cent omen )did not attempt to obtain legal or community remedies for the !iolence primarily out of fear of the perpetrators or social dishonour if 8se/ual9 !iolence as re!ealed,# "n only 1 per cent of recorded cases ere the perpetrators con!icted# 0hat )follo s incidents of !iolence,% the .3 found% is )a resounding silence,# &he effect hen it comes to (alit omen specifically% but not e/clusi!ely% )is the creation and maintenance of a culture of !iolence% silence and impunity,# &he "ndian constitution ma-es clear the )principle of non-discrimination on the basis of caste or gender,# "t guarantees the )right to life and to security of life,# Article 46 specifically )protects (alits from social in'ustice and all forms of e/ploitation,# Add to this the important *cheduled +astes and &ribes 8Pre!ention of Atrocities9 Act of 1DGD% and a ell-armed legislati!e army is formed# 6o e!er% because of )lo le!els of implementation,% the .3 states% )the pro!isions that protect omen:s rights ha!e to be considered empty of meaning,# "t is a familiar "ndian story= 'udicial indifference 8as ell as cost% lac- of access to legal representation% endless red-tape and obstructi!e staff9% police corruption% and go!ernment collusion% plus media indifference causing the ma'or obstacles to 'ustice and the obser!ation and enforcement of the la # .nli-e middle class girls% (alit rape !ictims 8 hose numbers are gro ing9 rarely recei!e the attention of the casteIclass-conscious urban-centric media% hose primary concern is to promote a Bolly ood shiny% open-for-business image of the country# " as in "ndia in Banuary 2014 hen a 20-year-old (alit oman from the *anthal tribal group in 0est Bengal as gang-raped% allegedly )on the orders of !illage elders ho ob'ected to her relationship 8 hich had been going on in secret for fi!e years9 ith a man from a nearby !illage in the Birdhum district,# &he !iolent incident occurred hen%according to a BB+ report% the man visited the womans home with the proposal of marriage, villagers spotted him and organized a kangaroo court. During the proceedings the couple were made to sit with hands tied the headman of the womans village fined the couple 2 ,!!! rupees "#!! $% dollars& '() 2#!* for +the crime of falling in love. ,he man paid up, -ut the womans family were una-le to pay. +onse4uently% the )headman, and 12 of his cohorts repeatedly raped her# Jiolence% e/ploitation and e/clusion are used to -eep (alit omen in a position of subordination and to maintain the patriarchal grip on po er throughout "ndian society#

&he cities are dangerous places for omen% but it is in the countryside% here most people li!e 8H0 per cent9 that the greatest le!els of abuse occur# Many li!ing in rural areas li!e in e/treme po!erty 8G00 million people in "ndia li!e on less than 2#50 dollars a day9% ith little or no access to health care% poor education and appalling or none/istent sanitation# "t is a orld apart from democratic (elhi% or 0esterniCed Mumbai= ater% electricity% democracy and the rule of la are yet to reach into the li!es of the omen in "ndia:s !illages% hich are home% Mahatma Gandhi famously declared% to the soul of the country# 3o surprise% then% that after t o decades of economic gro th% "ndia finds itself languishing 1F6th 8of 1G6 countries9 in the 8gender e4uality ad'usted9 .nited 3ations 6uman (e!elopment inde/K 7epressi!e ideas of gender ine4uality "ndian society is segregated in multiple ays= casteIclass% gender% ealth and po!erty% and religion# @ntrenched patriarchy and gender di!isions% hich !alue boys o!er girls and -eep men and omen and boys and girls apart% combine ith child marriage to contribute to the creation of a society in hich se/ual abuse and e/ploitation of omen% particularly (alit omen% is an acceptable part of e!eryday life# *ociologically and psychologically conditioned into di!ision% schoolchildren separate themsel!es along gender lines< in many areas omen sit on one side of buses% men another< special omen-only carriages ha!e been installed on the (elhi and Mumbai metro% introduced to protect omen from se/ual harassment or )e!e teasing, as it is collo4uially -no n# *uch safety measures% hile being elcomed by omen and omen:s groups% do not deal ith the underlying causes of abuse% and in a sense may further inflame them# 7ape% se/ual !iolence% molestation and harassment are rife% but% ith the e/ception perhaps of the Bolly ood Mumbai set% se/ is a taboo sub'ect# A poll by .ndia ,odayconducted in 2011 found that 25 per cent of people had no ob'ection to se/ before marriage% pro!iding it as not in their family# *ociological separation fuels gender di!isions% supports pre'udicial stereotypes and sto-es se/ual repression% hich many omen:s organiCations belie!e accounts for the high rate of se/ual !iolence# A 2011 study% carried out by the "nternational +entre for 7esearch on 0omen% of men:s attitudes in "ndia to ards omen produced some startling statistics= one in four admitted ha!ing )used se/ual !iolence 8against a partner or against any oman9,% one in fi!e reported using )se/ual !iolence against a stable >female? partner,# 6alf of men don:t ant to see gender e4uality% G0 per cent regard changing nappies% feeding and bathing children to be ) omen:s or-,% and a mere 16 per cent play any part in household duties# Added to these inhibiting attitudes of mind% homophobia is the norm% ith D2 per cent confessing they ould be ashamed to ha!e a gay friend% or e!en be in the !icinity of a gay man# All in all% "ndia is blighted by a catalogue of Jictorian gender stereotypes% fuelled by a caste system designed to sub'ugate% hich trap both men and omen into conditioned

cells of isolation here destructi!e ideas of gender are allo ed to ferment% causing e/plosions of se/ual !iolence% e/ploitation and abuse#