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Living as a Dalit woman in post-Hathras Ghaziabad

police cars representational image
Representational image

The contours of bourgeoning Ghaziabad are marked by villages, pure vegetarian restaurants, quack shops and real estate businesses along the two sides of the road. After years of frequenting this border district, the Dalit woman in me is marked by developing anxieties every passing day as the Hindutva pitch takes centre stage in every sphere of life. 

What it means to live in a fast-changing Uttar Pradesh drastically changed for every marginalised person, especially Dalit women, post the heinous gang rape of a 19-year-old Dalit woman by five Thakur men in Boolagarhi village of Hathras on September 11, 2020. 

The rape was symbolic of the patriarchal-feudal mentality of the Indian republic. What followed was also predictable – from biased coverage of the national media to inadequate bureaucratic response and a compromised forensic investigation. The case was a tell-tale sign of the casteist rot that festers in growing towns and metropolises despite tall claims of social and economic progress by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.  

Most people living in Delhi never want to reside or work in Sahibabad, Ghaziabad, Meerut and the like. A tacit everyday culture of violence earmarks these towns surrounding the national capital. There has been a rise in social and civic decay and caste-based atrocities, as reported by certain sections of the media, after the BJP won the parliamentary election in 2014. 

The jails filled with Dalits and Muslims are one of the evidences of the state’s abject failure towards the marginalised. However, the severe outcome of living in Yogi Adtiyanath’s Uttar Pradesh since 2017 is borne mostly by Dalit women who remain doubly marginalised in every aspect. 

Police surveillance

To add to this is the growing deployment of fear-inducing disciplinary tactics in Ghaziabad by the police. A siren van circles around certain areas like a nightly drill, inducing terror and insecurity in the neighbourhood. 

The police van is stationed near particular houses for a long duration in the deep hours of the night with the siren on. To raise a complaint against the noise is a luxury only reserved for upper-caste neighbours who also happen to be on good terms with the police due to their shared caste identity.

This intimidating pattern is similar to the uncertainty that was deliberately constructed in the Hathras gang rape. The funeral was a literal performance of the denial of access to resources, relief and resistance to Dalit women. Around the same time, another 22-year-old Dalit woman was raped in Balrampur in the same city. This case, like most others, wasn’t reported to an effective degree. 

Hurdles in registering FIRs

The National Crime Records Bureau data states that 10 Dalit women are raped every day in India. This is only a tiny percentage of the truth since most cases are never reported or allowed to be registered at the stage of the First Information Report (FIR) itself – a perpetuation of the caste mentality well demonstrated in this case originating from the local Chandpa police station in Boolagarhi village where the case was first attempted to be registered. 

It is not an exaggeration to say that sexual caste violence remains an unabated pandemic of the fascist terrain of India. Dalit women are the convenient victim and our political choices are only shaped by a lack as per the dominant discourse.

Another recent disciplinary measure is the attempt by the Ghaziabad police to make revelation of caste identity mandatory while firing an FIR. The reason stated is usually to check if the case falls within the purview of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which is suffering from repeated attempts towards dilution. However, once caste identity is revealed, the case takes an altogether different turn. There is constant harassment regarding the veracity of the case and extreme pressure to withdraw. In most cases the police simply sits on the complaint till a point of utter exasperation is reached. Intimidating tactics such as visiting the house of the complainant, repeated calls by the police in the evenings containing casteist slurs, etc, are employed.

Violence against Dalit women not taken seriously

A lack of financial mobility and social status adds to the Dalit woman’s experience of violence and erasure. Our lived experiences of such hostility and abject apathy rarely make it to the headlines till we are raped, murdered or lynched. Ajit Singh Pal – the minister was only right in stating that the Hathras gang rape is a small issue. His statement highlighted the Brahmanical state’s perspective towards violation of bodily integrity of a Dalit woman as a routine affair. It was not just atrocious caste violence but also a lesson in social hierarchy when the tongue of the victim was cut off by the five Thakur men to curtail the victim from narrating the truth of the crime.

The many pervasive consequences of a post-Hathras Ghaziabad are structural and institutional violence by the government on Dalits every minute. An FIR was filed on the 236 Valmiki community members of Karhera village for conversion to Buddhism right after the incident. It was stated by the MLA Nand Kishor that the organisation behind the conversion has links with terrorist organisations outside India. 

Several such dotted villages of Ghaziabad – mostly occupied by the Dalit labourers — remain in perpetual fear marred by deep scarcity of water and rising inflation amid a swallowing real estate. Villages like Kanawani and adjacent areas suffer from 15-hour electricity cuts and an absolute paucity of government health, education and transport facilities despite being labelled as no electricity-cut zones.  

The Hindutva frenzy

Recently the police made enquiries about caste identity in several neighbourhoods of the residents claiming it was for an upcoming legal process but no other information was divulged. The area has been stained by multiple daily rallies about the construction of the Ram Mandir and the funds required for the construction. An appeal was being constantly made to all Hindus on the loudspeaker circling the lanes. In the night the anti-Romeo squad van does the rounds hounding anyone who dresses differently or expresses the minutest of dissent in any form. 

Recently, a lavish wedding was held between Ram and Sita by various temple trusts followed by a crowded procession amid a severe dearth of doctors, hospitals and medical resources for the exponentially rising number of COVID-19 patients. If our bodies continue to be under the total control of the Brahmanical state, now it is also our homes, cities and conscience. In the government ads on the billboards in Ghaziabad, Adityanath proudly goes on announcing the construction of toilets for every small household as the Uttar Pradesh election draws closer. The experience of every Dalit woman in the Hindu fascist territory of Ghaziabad is tainted by a similar growing contradiction and an even narrower access to equality and liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.

Aatika Singh is an artist. She is currently pursuing her master’s from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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