The Time for Action is Now: Ending Caste Based Sexual Violence in Haryana
Justice Denied: Sexual Violence & Intersectional Discrimination - Barriers to Accessing Justice for Dalit Women and Girls in Haryana, India, analyses the specific barriers to accessing justice faced by Dalit survivors of sexual violence in Haryana.
This report analyses the specific barriers to accessing justice faced by Dalit survivors of sexual violence in Haryana, drawing from Swabhiman Society’s experience of working directly with Dalit survivors of sexual violence in Haryana over the past decade and highlights insights from 40 cases of sexual violence.
The report provides recommendations for the Haryana state and Indian national government on combating caste-based sexual violence and calls for urgent systemic and structural reform.
Sexual violence used by dominant castes to oppress Dalit women and girls
Dalits - officially designated as Scheduled Castes by India’s Constitution - are at the bottom of caste and class hierarchies in India. Dalit women in particular face intersecting forms of gender, caste and class discrimination. Violence, including rape and gang rape, have been systematically utilized as weapons by dominant castes to oppress Dalit women and girls and reinforce structural gender and caste hierarchies.
Culture of “violence, silence, and impunity”
Around 10 Dalit women or girls are raped every day across the country, demonstrating the endemic nature of this crime, with rape also being used as a means of power to oppress Dalit women and girls. However, only a fraction of the cases of sexual violence are reported. Survivors of sexual violence, Dalit women and girls, in particular, are known to be systematically silenced - through community pressure, repression of complaints by their own family or community due to fear or threats by dominant castes, and failure to register complaints on the part of the police.
Very high rates of violence against Dalit women
In the northern state of Haryana, where Dalits make up around one-fifth of the state’s population, a deeply-rooted caste-based and patriarchal society still flourishes. There are high rates of violence against women - data from the National Crime Records Bureau in 2019 indicates that 4 women are raped every day in this state alone, with 221 rape complaints filed just by Dalit women and girls across the year.
Barriers to accessing justice
This report focuses on the particular issues faced by Dalit women and girl survivors in accessing the criminal justice system and utilizes an intersectional approach to document their experiences. By taking into account the various forms of social stratification faced by people at the intersections of various identities, including caste (which is an overarching system of oppression and discrimination), class, age, and gender, we find that the nature and forms of discrimination and violence faced by women and girls at these interstices are severe and will require specific intentional interventions to address.
The key data findings based on the 40 cases of rape against Dalit women and girls studied in Haryana are as follows:
- Caste-based Sexual Violence: In 80% of cases against Dalit women and girls, the perpetrators were men from dominant castes.
- Difficulty in obtaining convictions: The only cases in which convictions were obtained against all accused persons involved either rape and murder together, or were committed against very young girls (under the age of 6). It remains exceptionally difficult to obtain convictions in cases other than those deemed to be the most extreme violations.
- Community role in impeding access to justice: Community and social pressure play a major role in impeding access to justice, in 57.5% of the cases, survivors were forced into compromises or extra-legal settlements. Unofficial village councils, known as khap panchayats, also attempted to interfere with the justice process in over 80% of the cases, by using their economic, social and political power to threaten, intimidate and coerce the survivor or her family into staying silent or refrain from pursuing the criminal case.
- Lack of support services: Survivors find it extremely difficult to access support services, including those which are required to be provided by law, such as victim compensation, psycho-social care, and police protection, for various reasons including inaccessibility of services, caste-based discrimination, etc.
- Intrusive medical examinations: The banned two-finger test, a traumatizing and unscientific vaginal examination, continues to be conducted as part of the medico-legal examination of rape survivors in many cases.
Specific targeting of Dalit women and girls
Dalit women and girls in Haryana are effectively denied access to justice in cases of sexual violence due to the prevalent culture of impunity, particularly when the perpetrators are from a dominant caste, but there are also indications that Dalit women and girls are specifically targeted for rape by dominant caste men who can rely on such impunity. In almost all cases, survivors who seek justice for sexual violence are subjected to stigma, retaliation, threats, violence and extreme pressure to stay silent or stop pursuing the criminal process. They live in fear - of their own safety, of losing their access to livelihood (often controlled by dominant caste communities), of being forced out of their homes, and of facing caste-based abuse and discrimination from the police, prosecutors, and other officials in the criminal justice system. This fear, trauma, and pressure faced by survivors and their families is compounded by the obstacles to accessing justice within the criminal justice system itself.
Addressing impunity - our recommendations
The barriers to accessing justice faced by Dalit survivors of sexual violence makes it highly unlikely that the perpetrators of sexual violence will be prosecuted or convicted. This impunity must be addressed and prevention and response to sexual violence cases drastically improved in order to end this cycle of violence.
Based on these findings, our report puts forward recommendations for improvement of the police, medico-legal, and judicial processes in Haryana to improve access to justice for survivors of sexual violence, particularly Dalit women and girls.
- Increased police accountability and provision of effective victim and witness protection
- Addressing impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence particularly when they are from dominant castes
- Taking steps to limit community intervention in cases of sexual violence, including by banning khap panchayats
- Combating the intersectional forms of discrimination faced by Dalit women and girls while dealing with law enforcement officials
- Improved resourcing and utilization of existing funds for sexual violence prevention and response programs.