Kopardi Rape Case, Maratha Kranti Morcha, When Caste Subsumes Gender Identity Of A Rape Victim

The Session Court has found all three Dalit men accused in Kopardi rape case guilty. The quantum of punishment will be given on 21st Nov. In July 2016, a 15 year old girl in Kopardi village, distt Ahmadnagar, Maharashtra, was brutally gang raped and murdered.

The rape and murder gave rise to statewide protests by Maratha community and a massive silent rally called Maratha Kranti Morcha was taken out attended by over 10,000 marathas. Among their main demands were, justice for Kopardi rape victim and scrapping of SC/ST Act. This creates a peculiar case of gender based violence at the intersection of caste in India. While rape and murder is common place in India, few see such large scale protests and even fewer end up raising the caste conflict. Why then, in this case did caste become the primary factor beyond gender and women’s safety? Because this was one of those rare occasion when Dalit men perpetuated violence upon upper caste (Maratha) girl/woman.

I have previously wrote about this in Outlook Web. Few Excerpts below.

When Caste Subsumes Gender Identity Of A Rape Victim

Rape of Maratha girl is portrayed primarily as an attack on caste rather than violation of her bodily integrity  by SANJUKTA BASU, KARTIKEY SHUKLA

India has a long tradition of caste and religion-based politics in which national constructs of masculinity and feminity are played up for political gains by all parties yet marginalised groups like women and Dalit women in particular have no representation.

In the aftermath of the alleged rape of a Maratha girl in Kopardi village by Dalit youths, Maratha leaders called for a silent march, putting their three key demands – justice to the girl, amend/scrap the SC/ST atrocities act and reservation for Maratha community.

Undermining the gender question

The public debates around the ongoing Maratha agitation have divided women into two castes. The Marathas are looking for short-term political gains and not focusing on the comprehensive issue of ‘gender politics of equality and justice’.

The nation feels outraged when its women are attacked by the perceived ‘others’ because national identity is built upon notions of inclusivity and exclusivity. To maintain the purity of national identity it is important to control women’s reproductive potential. Thus women become the embodiment and protector of national identity devoid of her own agency. Imagining women as Bharat Mata, depicting her body co-terminus with India’s map, is both reductionist and dehumanising.

Nation here does not mean only political borders but also includes micro nations based upon caste, region, religion, language, and ethnicity and so on.
The Kopardi rape and murder is not the first case of rape and murder of a Maratha woman. Then why this one, out of many such incidents, became the starting point for a mass movement against entire Dalit community? Because, perhaps this is the first case of ‘our’ woman raped by ‘others’ (Dalits).

While all such horrific incidents of rape and murder should trigger such mass movements, anger and demands for justice, it is not clear why the anger is towards the entire Dalit community? One is not even denying that SC / ST Bill may need a review and be amended but to connect that with the rape is to deny the deceased victim her gendered identity and only see her as an embodiment of her caste. Her rape was not a violation of her bodily integrity but an attack on her caste.

SC/ST Act was introduced to prevent several caste-based atrocities, primary sexual violence against Dalit women. Now, suddenly due to the misdeeds of some men from their caste, Dalit women stand to lose the protection of the said law. Where do women stand in this debate? Where are their voices in this mass movement led mostly by upper caste men against Dalit men. Perhaps they are just collateral damage in this caste struggle.

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