Tanvi Desai, a 25-year-old resident of Borivali, who was protesting against Hathras gang rape admitted she was ignorant earlier when it came to caste based violence but, she can’t do that anymore. She was fuming with anger, along with a sense of responsibility to put an end to injustice against women and minorities in India. “We need to give it a platform. It is also for our future generations like my two-year-old niece to make our country safe for women,” she said. Wary of the media and their little no attention to social causes, Tanvi doesn’t want the incident to get buried in baseless news.
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Tanvi was among 50-odd residents who came out to protest the Hathras rape, murder and police brutality at Chaitya Bhoom in Dadar, a Buddhist shrine which is the resting place of B. R. Ambedkar, Dalit leader and architect of the Indian Constitution.
Chants of ‘Azadi’ from discrimination, rape, injustice rhymed in the air with protestors of all ages. At 8:30PM on Wednesday, a candlelight protest and discrimination saw Mumbikars coming out in solidarity for the young woman on short notice.
On September 14, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly gang raped and grieveously in jured by four upper caste men in Hathras, a district in Uttar Pradesh.
The victim finally succumbed to her injuries on September 28 in Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi. The police cremated her body in the middle of the night on September 29, without the consent of family members.
“She was raped once and then the state tried to rape the victim by its brutality and injustice again. This is horrifying. How they have treated the victim, the family, and the murder just depicts the alarming state of lawlessness in the state,” said Fahad Ahmed, a senior researcher and one of the organizers of the protest said.
Fahad tweeted about the incident and immediately his friends responded to say they should protest in solidarity with the victim and her family. “We quickly informed everybody through social media and people showed up,” he added.
The police surrounded the area, but the protests were peaceful even as the atmosphere was filled with anger, passion, and determination for justice for the 19-year-old Dalit woman and her family. “We couldn’t stop ourselves even in the lockdown. We thought it was an attack on the constitution, but it is also an attack on the nation’s soul,” said Guddi, a member of nonprofit organization Yuvak Biradari in Mumbai. She felt that if such incidents continued to occur, a majority of Indians would come out to protest. “Why is the government silent on this?” she asked. “It is already 16 days and the government had enough time to answer why such an atrocity happened, but it is still silent. We want answers.”
Members of Forum Against Oppression of Women, a collective feminist group formed in 1980s, participated in the protes. A 67-year-old member of the group, Sandhya Gokhale, spoke from experience. She told Citizen Matters that as resistance grows, there will be more violence by the state.
Describing the sad affairs of lawlessness in the country, Gokhale said, “We have no alternative left except to protest. Judiciary has failed us, the government has failed us. Victims are treated like criminals. In a gang rape case of a 22-year-old woman in Bihar, the victim and two social workers were sent to jail. They had to go to the Supreme Court to get bail. This is criminal. Our justice system has collapsed.”
The protest saw the youth in significant numbers with the youngest member being a 17-year-old Dalit student. “I have faced discrimination because of caste. I was recently slapped and was spit on by people of the upper caste in public. It is important for me to join the protest and show solidarity,” the student said.
“I have been reading a lot about atrocities on Dalit that happens till now in our country. Change can only happen when the caste system is eradicated,” said Neeraj Athawala, a student of 12th standard, who commuted from a distant Thane to join the protest.
Aamir Kashi, an MA student at Mumbai University, believes it is high time to speak out against the violence. “When I came to know about the case, I was shocked. I thought after Nirbhaya, it would be better for women. But, it is still the same. How many such incidents are needed in order to change our attitudes towards minorities and women? It’s the 21st century and caste-based violence is still prominent. It is shameful.”
A freelance writer, Ankita, who resides in Borivali, said that it was anger that brought her to the protest. “It’s not the first time such a cruel incident has happened. There is lot of anger and frustration especially in regard to caste based discrimination. People choose not to recognise it but it can’t be ignored anymore.There is no law and order, not just in Uttar Pradesh but across the country.”
As the protest came to an end after one and half an hours, people felt there was a need to bring about a mindset change. “We do have strict laws, sufficient police force, judicial system all in place. It is the lack of willingness to implement such laws correctly that is leading to such hate crimes. Rape is being used to assert dominance over women and lower caste people. This is happening because of our mentality which needs to change to stop such crimes from happening in future,” said a 42-year-old former police person said.