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10 May 2016

PUDR strongly condemns the gruesome rape and murder of the Dalit law student in Kerala’s Perumbavoor district on 28th April 2016, and the appalling indifference demonstrated by the police in securing justice for her. The mutilation of her body is symptomatic of the brutal physical and sexual violence inhering in a caste-based patriarchal society, which is routinely inflicted on Dalit women to deny them dignity even in death.

Reports have surfaced narrating a long history of caste- and gender-based discrimination faced by the victim and her mother. As a household comprising only women, who work and support themselves, belonging to the so-called lower castes living in a predominantly upper-caste neighbourhood, the victim and her mother were constantly subjected to atrocities such as stoning, ostracization, cutting off water supply and sexual harassment. That the police refused to take any action on the repeated complaints of the victim and her mother reflects the bias in the police and administration, which willingly perpetuates and breeds impunity for crimes against Dalit women by turning a blind eye. Even after the brutal rape and murder, the police refused to file an FIR based on the complaint of the victim’s mother. It took five days, and significant mobilization by Dalit activists, to finally register the FIR, by which time crucial evidence was lost forever.

This, despite S.166A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits the police from refusing to file an FIR in cases of sexual violence. The provision was introduced as part of the major reforms in sexual violence laws in 2013, based on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee. Earlier in 2016, the amendments to the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 were also notified. The new law, under S.4, reiterates this directive, by punishing a police officer for refusing to file an FIR in cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These measures were crucial to end impunity for sexual violence, specially against Dalit women, and enable them to access justice.

It would appear that the welcome reforms triggered by another brutal rape and murder, in Delhi in 2012, has scarcely changed the culture of impunity in cases of sexual violence against Dalit women. From Bhanwari Devi in Rajasthan in 1992, to the Khairlanji massacres in 2006, from the Bhagana rapes and abduction to the Badaun rapes and lynching of young Dalit girls in 2014, and the rape and murder of a 17-year old schoolgirl in Rajasthan last month, the story of police inaction and lack of proper investigations and trials remains common in cases of violence against Dalit women.

Response by the public and the media to this incident of sexual violence has also been disquieting. While the 2012 Delhi gang-rape and murder led to massive outrage, protests and demands for justice, nothing of that magnitude materialized in this case. Simultaneously, the print, television and social media have contributed to making a spectacle of the violence, by disclosing the name of the victim in contravention of the law, and sensationalizing the heinous nature of the assault. Overtly and covertly, there has been an attempt to either detract from or completely erase theDalit identity of the victim. At this juncture, it bears emphasizing that ending violence against women requires a recognition of the structural causes that breed such violence along different axes of marginalization of caste and gender, and the state apathy, including the police’s caste and gender prejudices, that prevent women of backward and dalit castes from securing redress.

PUDR therefore demands that:

1. Proceedings be initiated against the perpetrators under the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as well as the Indian Penal Code, as amended in 2013.

2. A speedy trial be ensured in this case, and the mother of the victim be granted adequate compensation under the Kerala Victim Compensation Scheme.

3. Police officers who refused to file the FIR should also be punished with offences under S.4, Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and S.166A, IPC.

Moushumi Basu and Deepika Tandon

Secretaries, PUDR