Politics- Of Caste, By Caste and For Caste
Hathras and Rising Rapes
On 14th September 2020 when we were all fixated at prime-time news channels craving for the romanticization of an alleged Bollywood drug expose; four upper-caste men gang-raped a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh. The victim who had gone to the farm to gather cattle fodder was dragged by her dupatta by four men of the Thakur caste who then cut her tongue. A close parallel comes from the Mahabharata when Draupadi was dragged by her hair by brute force by Dushasana into public court and assaulted. I often wonder if our society has evolved when it comes to abuse of women amidst the intense lust for political power and wealth. The insane act left the Hathras victim paralyzed with a spinal cord injury and she succumbed to her wounds on 29 September 2020. No one knew at that time that the deceased victim just like Draupadi of the Mahabharata would become the driving force for major upheavals largely social and political.
According to the NCRB, 32,033 rape cases of women were registered in 2019, while cases of rape of women belonging to SC community were 554 in Rajasthan, 537 in Uttar Pradesh and 510 cases in Madhya Pradesh. In the case of tribal women, 351 cases of rape were registered in Madhya Pradesh followed by 180 in Chattisgarh and 114 in Maharashtra.
This case like any other case as recorded by the NCRB, could have easily been forgotten, forgiven and bypassed with the thought-“yahan toh hota hi rehta hai”. But the case gained national attention when the establishment and the authorities responsible for the wellbeing of the citizenry claimed it was fake news, implying that there was no case of rape. Consequently, the body of the victim was burnt at 2:45 am against the wishes of the family. Meanwhile, another gang-rape took place in Balrampur, U.P. The perpetrators this time were two Muslim men.
As expected our visionary and tender-hearted politicians, reached the village of the victim to meet the family, a few used their Twitter handles while others very ceremonially asked for CBI enquiries. One might argue against the politicization of a sensitive issue, but if this is seen as a cry for justice, then be it. If enough pressure is being put on the government to act and punish the perpetrators, even if out of sheer vanity, then the end justifies the means.
A news report mentioned an alleged statement made by the Hathras DM who went on to say to the victim’s family that the media and opposition parties were there for a short span and won’t be there long enough and so they must act accordingly. It makes me think if he was perhaps right. The harsh reality remains that political actors will try to milk the situation, and the media will show concern, breaking away from the nationalistic, noble agenda of Bollywood and drugs. But it will provide for only a seasonal coverage, going back to their ways again when this upheaval loses steam. The fourth pillar just like the deaf and dumb courtiers of Hastinapur has cost many Draupadi’s their lives, dignity and honour innumerable times.
Different Identities and Different Priorities
In a large country like India where the numbers are already quite alarming and we all are familiar with the saying that ‘things like these keep happening’, so why was our conscience struck after the Hathras incident? Could this upheaval be a sign of brewing discontent against the state and union government that is finding expression here? If not, then is our society mirroring itself to the horrific realities it has subscribed to in the past?
For citizens, their vote is the means to bring about a change. This may be why each new government is hailed with expectations of a utopian society, one without caste induced inequalities, gender stereotypes and huge income gaps. That is also what happened when the Yogi Sarkar was elected, free of the bounds of a coalition, the government promised change.
It is ironic then that the Additional Chief Secretary (Home), the Balarampur case would be fast-tracked and if required the NSA (National Security Act) might be invoked. While one case is being hushed into the shadows, another is being pursued quite heavily. The government is making a statement, “divided by caste, united by religion” or “divided by religion, united by caste.” Either way, the divisionality of politics and power plays of the oppressor vs the oppressed can be seen very clearly.
The Number Game
Over time our perception of reality has changed greatly, however, the underlying bedrock is still the same. Uttar Pradesh constitutes the maximum input on the road to Lutyens’ Delhi or if I may put it this way, if a party wishes to win at the Centre it must win/perform considerably well in the Hindi- Heartland. The Hindi- Heartland, then, becomes a rife ground for politics of divisionality. The race is not to win, but to make others lose. Thus, the many divisions in caste and religion come in handy.
We must remember that this is the state where the mandir model of politics originated and the political scene today is somewhat a cherished outcome of those struggles. Not only this, but Uttar Pradesh was also instrumental in the rise of Socially and Educationally Backward classes commission. One might argue then how come in a state like this, a Hindu Dalit woman was burnt in the middle of the night defying the traditions of Hindu religion of completing such rites before sunset and subsequently jeopardizing the rights of various socially and educationally depressed classes. The answer is, caste and politics go hand in hand and in such a scenario one or the other communities are bound to be affected in this divisive power-sharing formula.
For a society deeply entrenched into caste induced political gains with a well-crafted system empowered and endorsed by a morally adrift society, the court of Hastinapur is no competition. ‘Let’s bury the hatchet and move on’ is what we love to think and so do our rulers, but do we wait for another Hathras or another election where these horrific crimes will be talked about and leveraged upon until we actually start living cohesively.
In the end, the Balarampur and Hathras gangrape incidents converge with the caste composition and the political capital that the state carries. The atrocities are then reduced to mere data points, in a race that the people are bound to lose. It is not a surprise then that the Pandavas left no stone unturned to win their battle, Draupadi’s honour was only one casualty among many.
By Arnav Nag