In social media’s comment sections, it is often argued that the caste of the victim does not matters as a woman is not raped because of her caste but because of her gender. So, bringing the matter of caste is not appropriate here. However, this article discusses in brief how caste is a very relevant factor in a rape case. Violence, domination, rape, harassment, etc. are based on the power relations between the victim and the offender. The caste of a person determines the kind of power the person has or lacks. Though women are in a subordinate position in a patriarchal system, being lower caste puts them in a more vulnerable position and their voices are often suppressed.
Let us take four rape cases and understand the role of caste in how people reacted, how the state handled the case, how media covered it etc.
- Nirbhaya Rape Case (December 2012): The famous rape case in the National Capital of Delhi, shook everyone. The victim was an upper-caste woman, who was returning from a movie theatre with her friend, gang-raped and severely injured, and later died. Whereas, the rapists belonged to either lower caste or class. The reason why the caste of either of them does not seem relevant here because the culprits do not know the victim’s caste.
The incident leads to various protests throughout the country. People start demanding the death penalty for rapists. The media covered the incident and the court hearing very well. All therapists (one of them committed suicide) expect the juvenile were persecuted.
- Kathua Rape Case (January 2018): An 8-year-old Muslim (lower caste) girl was claimed to be gang-raped in Kathua in a Hindu temple by Upper caste men. She was kept there and gang-raped for a number of days and later brutally murdered. Unfortunately, instead of standing with the victim, people marched with the national flag in the support of therapists by saying that there has been no rape.
Many regional newspapers denied the fact that the girl was raped. Also, there was no nationwide outrage was seen in this case. (Because a common person of India does not see a lower-caste Muslim girl as his/her daughter.) Only on social media the issue was discussed and debated well that put the government under pressure, and the suspects were arrested. Now, the case is still under investigation. (No one demands that the culprits should be hanged.)
- Hyderabad Rape Case (November 2019): A doctor was gang-raped and later burnt in Hyderabad. She belongs to an upper-caste middle-class family, whereas the suspects belong to lower caste and class. The case again causes nationwide outrage and protests. Along with the common people, the mainstream media start demanding the death sentence for the culprits. Everyone was surprised when the police arrested four men and claimed that they are therapists. And the very morning all of them were killed in an encounter. (So no investigation took place; no one knows whether they were the real culprits or not.) The mainstream media as well as the people on social media, praised the Hyderabad police for taking laws into their own hands.
- Hathras Rape Case (September 2020): A 19 years Dalit woman is kidnapped and gang-raped by upper-caste men. Her tongue was cut, her spine was broken, and got severe injuries. But it took a week to file an FIR and two weeks to send her in a Safadarjang Hospital Delhi. Like, Kathua’s case, in initial it was claimed that there was no rape. The Savarna (upper caste) group denied that the girl was raped.
After the death of the victim, the police did her last right (burnt her dead body) without the consent of her family. Instead of standing with the victim and her family, the police took the other side. Some videos show that the police are trying to silence the victim’s family. In this case, also, the mainstream media is not demanding to hang the culprits. It is only because of the independent and local media the issue came up in the light.
In the case of Kathua and Hathras, it is noteworthy that there are some backdrops under which these incidents have occurred. Because the victims belong to the same locality that of their suspects, the suspects understand the implications of their actions. Moreover, the rapes were not to quench their lust but also in order to teach a lesson to the whole community. During the riots, rape is used as a political tool to oppress the other community; likewise, in caste clashes also rape becomes the instrument.