- Anandha Lekshmi Nair
The Resilient Brahmanical Patriarchy and Caste System
Not surprisingly, Brahminical patriarchy is ever thriving and the caste system is ever resilient. The upper caste male still wields the maximum power in the society and the dalit woman, who is also poor, is the most vulnerable person in the hierarchy. The tragedy of our times is that this exploitation is so routinised that incidents of violation of the rights and personhood of dalit women, including sexual assaults, do not evoke the reaction that they should. Following are three cases which made it to our newspapers and made a dent in our consciences in recent times.
Mathura Rape Case
Mathura, a young tribal girl, was raped in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra by the policemen in the police station, making it a case of custodial rape. The charge of rape was rejected y the trial court on ground that Mathura had ‘consented’ to sexual intercourse as there were no bodily marks to indicate ‘stiff resistance’. The court also found that Mathura did not conform to the understanding of the judges of a chaste woman as she allegedly had sexual relations with her fiancé. Therefore, she wasn’t the normative Hindu woman from an upper-caste who was supposed to be a virgin till she was married. The High Court on the other hand upheld the charge of rape. But when the matter went to the Supreme Court the charge was dismissed again. Soon, a nationwide campaign began on custodial rape but Mathura never got justice.
Phoolan’s life would have had parallels in the lives of many other women of her social location but her made experiences so notable was her career as a dacoit. Her position as the leader of a dacoit gang and, according to the legend, the revenge she sought against her rapists by killing 23 men of the village in which she had been allegedly raped, made her a dramatic figure, difficult to dismiss from public notice. The public ceremony of her laying down arms and later her career as a politician added even more drama to her life. Phoolan Devi’s murder in 2001 consolidated her image as a doomed woman who never could rewrite the script of her life in a way that made up for her vulnerability as a poor low caste woman, subject to the power of upper caste men, and could never escape from it, even though she wielded a gun for many years.
Bhanwari Devi was a saathin in the Women’s Development Programme of the Government of Rajasthan. Bhanwari was gang-raped at the behest of the prominent gujjars of her village whom she had antagonized by daring to try and prevent an infant marriage from taking place in a gujjar household during a government directed campaign against child marriage. Bhanwari’s position as a low caste woman who had not only tried to empower herself and the women of the village, but was also perceived to have thereafter challenged the powerful men of her village, had met with several reprisals. She was also targeted by powerful men and women of the state BJP. Not her rapists, but she was accused of bringing a bad name to Rajasthan. The judge rejected the charge of rape arguing that it was impossible for men above 40 years of age and belonging to different castes had stooped so low to have raped Bhanwari, a ‘low’ caste woman. The matter is in High Court at the moment but whether Bhanwari will get justice is a moot question given the balance of caste, class and patriarchal forces that prevail to date.
These three cases do not exhaust the reality of the range of oppressive practices that dalit women experience. These well-known instances of sexual assault revealing the power of the upper-castes over the dalit women, should not cloud the instances of material deprivation and degrading conditions of interaction which forms the everyday practices through which they experience caste.
-Written by: Anandha Lekshmi Nair