(CNN) – A group of Dalit women activists in India are dedicating their lives to the dangerous task of supporting members of their community who have survived sexual abuse.
Her work usually involves a secret fact-finding mission in the village where a survivor lives, says Rekha, a 24-year-old activist.
“There’s an element of fear,” says Rekha. “The criminals also live in or near that village.” But working in a group helps, she says.
Activists say Dalit women bear the brunt of widespread caste discrimination, which, though illegal, is part of the fabric of Indian life and affects their daily lives.
But even after 10 years, Anushka has not got justice.
The 23-year-old, the eldest of seven siblings, says she was attacked by a group of upper caste people with land, money, power and “political connections”.
She says she demanded that he drop the case, claiming that her upper caste attackers paid the officers investigating her case.
The men were acquitted and are living in a nearby village and are making threats, she says. Five years ago, he claimed that he had filed a complaint in the state high court, but nothing came of it. CNN has not seen a copy of the complaint and has not independently confirmed the matter. The survivor hid her full name for her own safety.
“Every time I read about another case of sexual violence, it comes back to what happened to me… I’m extremely sad that nothing has changed,” she says. “Unless every woman in this country is safe, there is no woman.”
In their daily work, someone from a team of about 200 local volunteers from five Indian states (Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana) will contact a survivor of sexual violence—whom activists consider their “sister”— – Get more permission to go, explains Rekha. He said he may also need to stay overnight.
Activists often accompany survivors of sexual violence to police stations and hospitals for medical tests, the results of which will be used as evidence in court. This support is needed because the police do not take their cases seriously, say activists.
“The moment the police officers see us, their tone changes because we are Dalit women,” says Rekha. “
Despite questions from people in her village in the northern state of Haryana whether she should raise her voice and fight police officers as a woman, Rekha continues this important work, she says.
Vikram Singh, a former Director General of Uttar Pradesh Police, believes that although caste discrimination is illegal, the police force looks down upon Dalit women.
“Things are changing,” Singh tells CNN, but “we have a very long way to go… there is (total) equality between Dalit women and non-Dalit women.”
Rekha says that medical check-ups are also done insensitively “even when (survivor) is with us.” She cites a case where hospital staff made a child rape victim wait for a long time and treated her rudely, when the family was already overwhelmed.
Rekha and two of her aides were also asked to leave the hospital and told that they were not allowed inside to assist the family or the survivor, she adds. CNN has not independently confirmed the details of the case.
affected by the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic presented new challenges for DWF members.
Riya Singh, a member of the DWF’s steering committee, says atrocities against Dalit women and families are also increasing during the pandemic. Group faces “reporting problem” [cases] to the police and [reaching] survive physically.”
“All funds were diverted for COVID relief, leaving very few resources to carry out the basic process of reporting a crime and supporting the victim,” says Singh. “Local public transport was closed; we could not reach the survivors because the villages are far away and the cases came from different places. We worked on the phone.”
But technology introduces its own problems. Singh says, “We are (a) team of Dalit women and we are not all equipped with digital means of communication. This whole webinar sh*t and online meeting was an added burden.” “However, at this stage we only see that our women have learned to use technology and grapple with the new normal.”
fight challenges from within
Women are trying to change the attitude not only in the society but also within their caste.
“Even today I have to face a lot of negativity from my father,” says rape victim Anushka. Even blame.”
Mohini Bala, aged 31 and based in Delhi, works for DWF as part of the leadership team. She lost her mother when she was six years old and was raised by her father and grandfather. She says she was “afraid to open her mouth” in front of her father or relatives, even “to ask for simple things.” She says she does not feel that Dalit women are seen as equal to men of the same caste.
She says schools are not always available in Dalit villages, but parents refuse to send their daughters to study elsewhere for fear of sexual violence while attending or on their way to school. Bala herself says that she left the school because she refused to accept the floor-sitting practice for Dalit students, she explains.
Bala accuses oppression of Dalit women saying, “We are denied the places where we should be. We are not allowed to step out of the house, to get educated, to go out at night, to work. for, which is based on the assumption that if a woman moves out [and something happens to her]It’s his fault,” she continued.
Neighbors and relatives question why they are working till late night, which is seen as degrading behavior for women. She says this adds “another layer of oppression” to the caste and gender discrimination women face.
What change is expected?
Bala says that after working in the field for nearly 14 years, perceptions are changing. She says she is the first woman in her village to quit her job after marriage and study law – a choice she chose for herself rather than the mate chosen by her family as per tradition.
“Social media has become a powerful medium for Dalit people to share their life experiences,” says Bala. was.”
However, activists have also warned that the propaganda offends some of the upper castes, leading to more atrocities. He believes that people from upper caste communities need to accept the unearned privileges that were given to them from birth.
Bala says, “It’s time to eliminate caste.” Meanwhile, “conversation should not be a trending topic (but) it should not end,” she says.
Rekha pays tribute to a famous Dalit politician, the late Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Affectionately known as “Baba Saheb”, which means respected father, Ambedkar helped write the Constitution of independent India in 1947.
“I get my strength from the leaders we had in the past, Babasaheb, and others we follow whom we carry in our hearts.
“Whatever it is, these rights are given to us by law.”
The responses of several interviewees received through video calls and emails were translated from Hindi to English.