Public humiliation is as old as the Mahabharata game of dice (at least) and as recent as this story that follows. In most cases, the woman becomes the pawn in a power-play that is really about entirely different things.
One of the saddest parts of this story is that Bombay/Mumbai, where I grew up and which we have in the past proudly described as “safe for women,” has chosen to pay no attention to this horrible incident.
“Snaking between the godowns of Mumbai’s Reay Road area are bylanes in which human dwelling competes with garbage mounds and slush. In this unacknowledged part of the city, on Mira Dargah Street near Darukhana, holed up in one of the several slum huts, lives an equally unacknowledged 22-year-old woman. She has refused to step out in her basti for more than a fortnight now; one or two policemen have kept vigil over her and her mother. The woman, a Dalit, was verbally abused, beaten with sticks, stripped of her clothes and dragged through the basti to the taunts, jeers and catcalls of whoever gathered to watch.
““I can’t go out there,” sobs Reema (name changed). “I kept shouting ‘No’, yet they kept beating me and ripping off my clothes and dragging me around, shouting ‘neech jaat, neech jaat (low caste)’. They kept telling one another to take turns at abusing, beating and insulting her. Some men even took photos on their mobiles, laughing all the time. I wanted to die.” She has been weeping and angry by turns since that fateful Thursday, June 17. Her ordeal of about half an hour ended when her neighbour, Saeeda Qazi, mustered courage to cover her up with a dupatta just as a police team arrived. Her mother, who was also beaten as she tried to protect her daughter, had gone to the nearest police station for help. “We didn’t cook or eat for days,” says the mother. “They did this because we are the only Dalit Marathi family here. They don’t want us around. Also, my son and I have fought many times, refusing to pay for the community water tap. So, when he wasn’t around, they took revenge.”
“The accused: 17 upper-caste women, seven of whom are absconding. One obtained bail almost immediately in what is actually a non-bailable offence while the others say they are confident of getting bail this week. For the record, offences were registered under several ipc sections—for unlawful assembly, rioting, outraging the modesty of a woman. Offences were also registered under Sections 3 (1), 3(10) and 3 (11) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “It’s a clear case of atrocity. The family has been provided security since then,” says ACP Dilip Waghmare, of the Wadala division. The police say a group of about 30 women and a few men led by one Sharada Yadav had planned the stripping and parading after the victim’s brother, a security guard, was arrested in a rape case.
““Whether he is a rapist or not will be decided by law,” says Shakil Ahmed of Nirbhay Bano Andolan, a voluntary group that is supporting the family with legal and other assistance. “What they did to the sister is unacceptable and unpardonable by any standards.” Ahmed is pained by the relative indifference of Mumbai civil society and activists to this particular case.
“Maharashtra’s record of atrocities on people from the scheduled castes shows a nearly 100 per cent increase from 2004 to 2008, the number of registered cases having risen over the period from 689 to 1,173. Data tracked by the state government shows an average of about 1,000 crimes each year for the last six years against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The conviction rate was an abysmal three per cent. “Forget the government,” says the bitter mother, “even the so-called Dalit netas have not come to share our grief. Someday the policemen will stop coming here, and then what happens to us?” The answers are not easy.”