The brutal gang rape and lynching of two minor girls aged 14 and 15 in a village in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh is a grim reminder of the gender, caste and class based atrocities that women from Dalit, oppressed castes face on a daily basis in India.
Two months earlier, four teenage Dalit girls aged 13-18 were gang raped by higher caste landowners in Bhagana in Haryana, where the survivors are still fighting for justice to take off.
The fact that the higher caste rapists at Badaun chose to finish off their vile crimes by murdering the victims and leaving their bodies on brazen display in full public view, rather than make any attempt to hide their deeds, shows that the act was intended as a chilling spectacle of higher caste dominance. It also displays the confidence of the perpetrators, that they would not be punished for committing crimes against women from oppressed castes. Indeed, less than a percent of rape cases of Dalit women by non-Dalits end in conviction.
In the Badaun case, the police refused to investigate when the girls’ families reported them missing. Two policemen have now been arrested with charges of conspiring with the higher caste rapists. The families of the victims of Badaun have been warned with dire consequences for seeking justice. They have been threatened with retribution once media and public watch ends in the village. In Bhagana, the survivors have been forced to travel to and camp in Delhi and stage a long protest to demand the arrest of the rapists after the police refused to register cases against the powerful men – the village Sarpanch and his uncle - named by the girls in their testimonies. The police tried to forcibly evict them from Delhi’s Parliament Street, resorting to sickening misogynist abuse and violence – and were thwarted only thanks to the interventions of activists including those from JNUSU and AISA.
Badaun Gangrape: CPI(ML) and AIPWA Investigation Report
An investigative team of CPI(ML) and AIPWA led by Central Committee member Com. Krishna Adhikari arrived at village Katra Shahadatganj in Badaun on 04.06.2014 and probed the incident of gang rape and murder of two minor cousin sisters in the village. The investigative team included AIPWA national executive member Com. Vidya Rajwar, CPI(ML) State standing committee member Com. Afroz Alam, AIPWA Bareilly district convener Com. Meena Singh and Com. VH Aman.
Dominant Caste Criminals Enjoying Political Patronage
About 50 km distant from Badaun district headquarters, the village Katra Shahadatganj with a population of approximately 4000 is part of the Ganga “katri” which is notorious for being the hideout of criminals. Transport is available from the district headquarters up to Tehsil Usaihat, after which occasional autos ply within Katri region. Commuting to and from this region stops after 6 in the evening, as people tell us dacoity and waylaying are common occurrences in this region. This village is located in the Aonla Parliamentary constituency which was represented by BJP’s Maneka Gandhi in the previous Lok Sabha and by BJP’s Mahendra Kashyap in the current Lok Sabha. The village falls in Dataganj Assembly constituency and Sinaut Shakya is the local MLA from here.
The investigating team reached the grove close to Shahadatganj village where the two minor girls were hanged from a mango tree after they were gang raped. Even though some days had passed since the incident, hundreds of youth, older people, women and children from the village and neighbouring areas were gathered there. There was great anger in the people against the police-criminal nexus. Some people brought us to the village, which is mostly populated by backward castes: Yadav, Kachhi, Kumhaar, Maurya and Shakya. There are also a few houses belonging to Brahmin, Pasi and Jatav castes. Of these the Yadavs are economically the best off and they own the largest number of pucca houses in the village. The economic condition of all the other castes is approximately similar. Most people do not own more than 2 to 3 bighas of land. The houses are either kutcha or made of broken bricks without plaster. There is no sign of any toilet anywhere in the village. The villagers told us that family members of Pappu Yadav and some other Yadav families came here a few years ago via jungles across the Ganga and settled in the village. Since then goondaism has been on the rise in the village. After the SP government came to power, people from the Yadav caste have been appointed to all posts from the chowki in charge to sipahi. After that the Pappu Yadav gang received direct police protection and the police chowki became the adda of the Pappu Yadav gang. The sipahis of the chowki Sarvesh Yadav and Chhatrapal Yadav were to be seen all the time with Pappu Yadav. The villagers told us that if anyone from the village went with a complaint to the police station, they were misbehaved with and driven away by the police.
The Incident of 27th May 2014
The investigating team met the victims’ family. Jeevan Lal and Sohan Lal, brothers who are each a father of one of the victims, methodically related details of the incident to the investigating team. They own a total of 3 bighas land and belong to the backward Maurya caste. One girl was aged 14 and studied in Class 8 and her cousin was aged 12 and studied in Class 6. At 8 pm on the night of 27 May the two girls were walking to the grove of trees a short distance from the house to relieve themselves. It is surmised that Pappu Yadav and 5 other goondas from his gang waylaid them and started dragging them away, but the girls started screaming and shouting. Hearing the screams of the children Babu Ram, who was looking after the fields, ran to their help and tried to free them, upon which the goondas beat him up and drove him away by firing at him.
Babu Ram went running to the village and informed the girls’ family and other villagers about the incident. The family and other villagers gathered together and went in the direction in which the goondas had taken away the girls. When after 2 hours of searching they could find no trace of either the goondas or the girls, they went to the chowki in the village at about 10 pm in the night. When they informed the chowki in charge Ram Vilas Yadav about the whole incident and asked them to find the missing girls, Chhatrapal Yadav started abusing them and slapped Jeevan Lal, saying that the girls would be found in 2 hours. The villagers got angry at this and demanded that the police should immediately find the goondas and the girls. Seeing the rising pressure from the villagers, the chowki in charge first asked constables Sarvesh Yadav and Chhatrapal Yadav to search for the girls. When they refused hesitated, he took them with him and went straight to the house of Pappu Yadav. The villagers also followed the police personnel. Pappu Yadav was found present in his home and the chowki in charge brought him to the chowki. The villagers present pointed to him as the main culprit and said that the 2 girls had been captured by his gang. Pappu Yadav eventually admitted that the girls were with him. Then suddenly the constable Sarvesh Yadav took Pappu Yadav into another room where they spoke together. Coming out of the room, Sarvesh Yadav told the villagers that the girls would be found in 2 hours and asked them all to go home. But even after 2 hours when the girls were not found, the villagers understood that the girls had been abducted in connivance with the chowki personnel. They then started making arrangements for transport to take them to the thana at Usaihat. At about 4 am in the morning when they were about to leave the village for the thana, the constable Sarvesh Yadav came and informed them that the girls had been found hanging on the mango tree. Then all the people went to the grove and found that the bodies of the 2 girls were hanging from the mango tree. The post mortem reports on the girls’ bodies have confirmed that they were raped.
1. The heinous crime of gang rape and murder of both the minor girls is a result of the nexus and connivance between the criminal gang of Pappu Yadav and the police chowki. The constables stationed at the chowki, Chhatrapal Yadav and Sarvesh Yadav are part of the Pappu Yadav gang.
2. After the incident, instead of taking immediate action to find the whereabouts of the girls and arrest the culprits, the chowki in charge Ram Vilas Yadav continuously misled the family members and the villagers and shielded and protected Pappu Yadav and the guilty police personnel. He refused even to register the FIR of the victims’ family members.
3. Even after several days of the day of the incident, the SP government made all attempts to shield and protect the culprits. After the incident DGP Shri AL Bannerjee visited Katra Shahadatganj and tried to give the police personnel a clean chit and cover up the incident by saying that it was an ‘honour killing’ or the result of some property dispute.
4. The morale of this unholy police-criminal nexus is being sustained and boosted by the ruling Parties in power at the Centre and the State.
5. From the beginning not only is the SP government in the State trying to shield and protect the culprits and police personnel involved in this crime, but the BJP government at the Centre is also sitting silent. The matter cannot be reduced to one of availability of toilets! Women and indeed everyone should indeed have access to hygienic toilets, but equally, women should be able to go out of their homes for any purpose, without fear.
6. It is evident that the BP, after 2 successive wins in the Aonla Parliamentary constituency, does not under any circumstances wish to upset the apple cart of criminals’ dominance or interfere with the social equation which is now slanted in its favour, so that in the coming Assembly elections it can once again take advantage of the criminals’ dominance and the present social equation to ensure a BJP victory, as it did in the Lok Sabha elections.
1. CBI enquiry should be immediately ordered into the gang rape and murder of the 2 minor girls at Katra Shahadatganj. (Subsequent to this report, a CBI enquiry has been ordered. – Ed/-)
2. Cases should be registered of conspiracy to gang rape, and also Section 166A IPC (dereliction of duty) against chowki in charge Ram Vilas Yadav and other police personnel of the chowki who shielded and protected the culprits ad tried to mislead and misinform the villagers and they should be sent to jail.
3. DGP AL Banerjee, who tried to cover up and trivialize this incident of gang rape and murder by calling it an honour killing or the result of property dispute, should be immediately removed from his post.
4. The victims’ family members should be immediately given proper security.
5. Rising violence against women in the State should be curbed and immediate and stringent action should be taken against the culprits.
Protests on Badaun and Bhagana Rapes
In Delhi, the JNUSU was among the first to call a protest at the UP Bhawan against the Badaun rape. A protest by various groups in London also took place.
More than 400 people protested outside the Indian High Commission in London between 4.30 and 6,30pm on 4 June. There were a wide variety of people, Dalit organisations from as far away as Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Coventry, a large number of women’s groups and progressive individuals including writers, poets and filmmakers. This was a demonstration of solidarity with the girls who are victims and survivors of Badaun and Bhagana and their families on the one hand and an outpouring of anger about what has happened on the other. It highlighted police rapes, and the collusion of the local administration and most shockingly the Indian government’s role in protecting the upper caste and economically powerful rapists. There were slogans such as ‘UP Government Shame Shame! Modi GovernmentShame Shame!’ and placards which read ‘MODI PARLIAMENT DAY ONE: BHAGANA RAPE SURVIVORS PROTEST EVICTED IN DELHI! IS THIS DEMOCRACY?’ and ‘WE REMEMBER BATHANI TOLA, BATHE, KHARLANJI, BHAGANA, BADAUN.. .HOW MANY MORE?
Sarbjit Johal on behalf of the Freedom Without Fear Platform the organisation which had called the event said: ‘While we are aware that sexual violence against Dalit and oppressed caste women and girls is widespread all over India and has been going on for a long time, today’s eviction and sexual assault on the Bhagana survivors and their families confrims our fears that things are getting worse not better. We are also appalled that Sanjeev Baliyan who is a main accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots and mass rapes has been rewarded with a minister’s post in Narendra Modi’s government. What kind of message does this give?’
Better toilets won’t solve India’s rape problem
(Excerpts from a piece by Shilpa Phadke in Al Jazeera America, June 17, 2014)
Several articles have latched onto the fact that the young girls raped and killed in Badaun were out of their homes after dark because they did not have a toilet indoors. This has led to a call for a focus on sanitation and the provision of toilets. There seems to be some sort of consensus that the provision of private toilets will prevent rape.
This conclusion seemed to be supported by the abduction and rape of four young girls from the village of Bhagana in March while relieving themselves outside. The girls were knocked unconscious, and when they woke up, found themselves lying on a train platform 90 miles from their home, their bodies bruised and their clothes ripped.
There are two important arguments worth discussing here. The first is an argument that many feminist and anti-caste activist writers have made: that the two girls were raped, murdered and lynched not because of a lack of toilets but because of India’s caste affiliations and the historical precedent that makes lower-caste women’s bodies the subject of sexual and other kinds of violence perpetrated by upper-caste men. In the Katra case, the girls belonged to a lower caste than their alleged assailants, and this gave the men impunity. The police, who belonged to the same caste as the alleged criminals, initially refused to file a case. In the Bhagana case, the girls were Dalits, belonging to castes considered the lowest in the hierarchy, while the alleged attackers (who have not yet been convicted) belonged to the dominant Jat caste.
The second argument questions the role of toilets in India’s rape problem. This is a development I have been following closely as a researcher on the subject of women’s access to public space and facilities. There is, by all accounts, a lack of sanitation and toilets across the country in both cities and villages. And yes, toilets are important to women: They reduce their vulnerability to attacks and address the adverse health impact of poor sanitation, which includes dehydration from not drinking enough water and urinary and reproductive tract infections.
However, the point really is that women should have access to public spaces even after dark without fear, whether they’re toilets in tiny villages or streets in big cities. What’s more, going to the fields provides women with a space to chat and hang out among themselves. The presence of private toilets may well erode women’s capacity to loiter in this fashion.
Focusing on toilets conveniently elides the question of access to public space. If indoor toilets keep women safe, the implication is that women could be kept indoors forever — for their own safety, of course. Never mind that around the world, home is the least safe place for women: The largest proportion of assaults take place in the home. Toilet talk reinforces the notion that a good woman is preferably indoors, especially after dark.
And yet toilets are being promoted not just as a social good but as an almost moral one. As part of a recent government campaign promoting toilets inside the house, Bollywood actor Vidya Balan appears in an advertisement alongside a young bride who lifts her veil to drink water. The bride’s in-laws frown on the action to show that traditionally women do not show their faces to outside men in their marital villages. The character played by Balan is sitting next to the bride and asks the mother-in-law where the toilet in the house is. “Not inside,” says the older woman. “She will have to go in the open.”
“Then,” says Balan to the bride, as if to shame her, “daughter-in-law, you may as well lift your veil.” Balan proceeds to tell the older woman, “On the one hand, you find it unacceptable for your daughter-in-law to even lift her veil slightly, and on the other hand, she has to to go in the open.” A similar ad has Balan lauding a young woman for walking out of her husband’s home the day after her wedding and (successfully) demanding a toilet inside the house.
The campaign is well intentioned, with Balan exhorting viewers with the tag line “Where there are thinking people, there are toilets inside the house.” However, a focus on private toilets in the absence of a similar effort toward public toilets and safer public spaces overall is a limited and limiting venture. The thrust of this campaign seems to be to protect women’s privacy and dignity by keeping them veiled, hidden and indoors.
My collaborative research based in Mumbai has focused on the value of public toilets as a means of enhancing women’s access to public space. A number of recent reports mentioned that girls use toilets at school during terms but that those facilities are closed during vacations — hence their need to use the fields. School toilets hold the key to some transformation: The provision of public toilets (or community toilets, as they are often called) rather than private ones might solve the problems of health without restricting women to the home.
What we need to focus on, then, is public infrastructure for citizens rather than provision of private facilities for individuals. We must see the provision of toilets in the same light as the provision of public transport — as a means to create greater, not less, access for the public. The presence of public toilets that are always open sends the message that women are expected to be in public space at all times of the day and night. They enshrine women’s right to have access to public space, as opposed to contributing to their forced confinement. As the women’s movement has articulated over and again, the creation of private infrastructure does little to further a feminist cause of liberation and may even be an obstacle to it.
In this context, it is important to talk about the right to access and about public access as a value in itself. Unless we recognize that access to public space is inherently valuable — if only for the sheer pleasure of being outside and in the world, for the capacity to make choices about one’s own body and mind — we will not be able to transcend the focus on a restrictive and conditional safety for women, epitomized in the recent obsession with toilets. No matter where in the world we live, whether in Delhi or Mumbai or Katra or Bhagana or Steubenville or Santa Barbara, women’s safety must be tied not to the dubious promise of private protection but to the freedom to access public space as citizens.