Friday, May 06, 2016
#JusticeForJisha: Why Jisha’s Dalit Identity Matters
AYESHA L. SETHI
NEW DELHI: It took the media an entire week to get hold of the news that a 30 year old law student had been brutally raped and murdered in Perumbavoor, Kerala. Jisha — as she is being called — was stabbed thirty times. Part of her intestines had been removed using a sharp object. Her lifeless body showed signs of severe torture and abuse — she had been strangled and sexually assaulted before she died. Her body was discovered by her mother in their small family home on Thursday, an entire week ago.
In the week since her death made it to the news, there was no statement from the police or the government. Why wasn’t Jisha’s death reported sooner? Why has the government not acted? Why has the police not said anything?
More so, why has Jisha’s murder — eerily similar to the December 2012 Delhi gang rape in its brutality — not led to widespread protests? The December gang rape made it to front page headlines. Thousands of people came out on the streets, across different cities in India, in protest. The public pressure prompted swift action. Arrests were made. Punishments were meted out.
In Jisha’s case, the silence is deafening. In addition to the fact that the media, government and police ignored the brutal crime for over a week, the only progress the police have made in the case is that since Tuesday, they have been interviewing two people, with no comment on whether or not they are suspects.
The silence surrounding Jisha’s murder, according to many, is linked to another evil deeply ingrained in Indian society — that of caste. Unlike Jyoti Singh (known in the media as Nirbhaya), Jisha belongs to the dalit community. Atrocities against dalits are hardly accorded comparable media real estate.
In modern India, violence against women and discrimination against dalits continue to remain pervasive. Worse, statistics against both social evils are on the rise.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, reported incidents of crime against women increased 6.4% during 2012, and a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes. To provide further context, 65% of Indian men believe women should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together, and women sometimes deserve to be beaten. From 2008 to 2012, reports of rape have increased from 21,467 to 24,923. It is worth noting that a large number of rapes and sexual assaults still go unreported, meaning that the real numbers are much higher. According to the reported statistics, in India, a woman is raped every 29 minutes. It is no surprise, therefore, that in 2012, India was as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman.
This generalisation, however, requires further context. Oppression in India is not uniform — it is disproportionately concentrated against the lower classes and the lower castes. At the extreme end of this are the Dalits. According to official crime statistics, 27 atrocities against Dalits are committed every day. 13 Dalits are murdered every week. 3 Dalit women are raped every day. A crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. This, despite the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Worse, these crimes are on the rise. According to data released by NACDOR, a total of 3,198 cases related to atrocities on dalits have been registered between 2004 and 2013 as against 1,305 from 1994 to 2003. These crimes rose by another 19 percent in 2014. According to statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), crimes against SCs rose to 47,064 in 2014 from 39,408 in 2013. In 2012 there were 33,655 crimes against dalits.
Jisha’s tragic story is proof that even in modern India, the media, government, police and even the public factor in identity in their selective outrage. In this case, Jisha’s dalit identity is the differentiator.
The hashtag #JusticeForJisha echoes some of this( see here)