Reports of sexual violence against women of lower castes in India are on the rise, and a new report details how the justice system is failing survivors and victims.
Released by women’s rights organization Equality Now in collaboration with grassroots organization Swabhiman Society on Nov. 25, Justice Denied: Sexual Violence & Intersectional Discrimination — Barriers to Accessing Justice for Dalit Women and Girls in Haryana, India reviewed rape cases from 40 women and girls within Haryana state’s Dalit community.
The Dalit community is the lowest Indian caste and men from dominant castes often weaponize sexual violence to reinforce caste and gender hierarchies, the report found. Perpetrators rely on a culture of impunity that allows them to go unpunished, and families of victims often struggle to access justice as a result.
“It is critical that the barriers to justice faced by Dalit women and girls at the ground level are brought to the attention of our society and government so that caste-based violence is recognized, space is created for Dalit voices to be heard, and collective action is taken toward ensuring justice to the survivors and their families," Manisha Mashaal, founder of Swabhiman Society, said in a press release issued to Global Citizen.
Government data shows that around 10 Dalit women and girls are raped daily across India, but the actual number is estimated to be higher as sexual violence usually goes unreported and perpetrators are rarely convicted, according to Equality Now.
Only 10% of cases reviewed in the report were closed with a successful conviction and they tended to be especially gruesome cases, involving murder or children under the age of 6. Perpetrators of the crimes also frequently acted in groups and often carried out brutal attacks that included gang-rape and murder.
When crimes were reported, the police often did not record or conduct investigations, the report found. Some officers assigned to the cases were abusive at times, tried to convince survivors to drop cases and labeled cases false, or claimed more sufficient evidence was needed to file a charge. What’s more, survivors did not receive adequate information regarding their legal rights and had a hard time accessing support services even though such services including victim compensation, psychosocial care, and police protection are required by law.
In many of the cases examined in the report, survivors and their family members who reported sexual violence became targets of further mistreatment. Survivors or family members were pressured to stop pursuing a legal case and settle outside of court in 60% of cases.
“Survivors and witnesses frequently face threats, coercion, and bribery,” Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now's Eurasia office said in a statement released to Global Citizen. “Compounding this is a pervasive culture of victim-blaming which renders many survivors unwilling to report attacks because they fear social stigma and know they are unlikely to get justice.”
Village councils also tried to disrupt the justice process by using their power to threaten, intimidate, and coerce survivors and family members in 80% of cases.
"In order to end this cycle of sexual violence targeting Dalit women and girls, impunity for offenders must be addressed, and the way that police and prosecutors respond to cases needs to be drastically improved,” Hunt said.
The report includes state and national recommendations for addressing caste-based sexual violence. Equality Now and Swabhiman Society are calling for clear messages of zero tolerance for sexual violence, compliance with India’s human rights obligations relating to sexual violence, and support for civil society organizations tackling caste and gender issues.