New Delhi- In a nation grappling with the omnipresence of patriarchy, the shadows of injustice and violence extend even to the state level. This darkness manifests with brutal force, leaving an indelible mark on the lives of women and girls hailing from the marginalized Dalit and Adivasi communities.
Revealing the stark reality of their plight, a ground breaking report recently surfaced on the 14th of October, conducted by the Citizen’s Vigilance and Monitoring Committee. This eye-opening report, a first-of-its-kind 'Citizen's Audit of the Union Report under Section 21(4) of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989,' exposes the harrowing experiences of Scheduled communities across the nation.
At its core, the report unearths a harrowing truth: the increasing instances of sexual harassment and violence against Dalit and Adivasi women and girls, bringing to light not only the staggering statistics but also the urgent need for decisive action to protect their dignity and well-being.
The report sheds light on disturbing trends observed in the year 2021. Twenty states and the Union Territory of Delhi reported inter-community crimes against Scheduled Caste women. Among these, rape is the most frequently recorded inter-community crime against Dalit women in the ten states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Uttarakhand. For Scheduled Tribes, inter-community rapes are most frequently reported in fourteen states, including Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
"There are virtually no recorded 'attempts to commit rape' or 'insult to the modesty of women' recorded in conjunction with the relevant sections under this Act, but most are grouped under 'assault on a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty.' Overall, India records only 13% of attempted rapes for every actual rape. This cannot be attributed to social compulsions, as there is a 257% increase in assaults on the modesty of women compared to rape," the document reported. Outraging the modesty of a woman is an offense provided there is the use of assault or criminal force with the intention for the purpose, or knowing it is likely to outrage her modesty. This offense, under this section, is different from rape and is considered less serious than the one under Section 376.
The citizen's audit brings attention to the grim reality faced by women from marginalized communities. In 2021, there were 3,780 and 1,324 recorded cases of inter-community rape of women and girls from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, respectively. "The eight-year average (2014-2021, the years for which data is available) shows a 96.3% difference between rape and attempted rape, with an increasing trend to 97.4% in 2021. There are meagre records of voyeurism, stalking, and other crimes that precede rape for a considerable stretch of time. The data reflects trivialization, with recorded assaults on women with the intent to outrage their modesty being almost 30 times more frequent than recorded attempted inter-community rape for Scheduled Caste women and over 40 times for women from Scheduled Tribes."
On average, about a third (33%) of recorded rapes involve minor girls. While the National Crime Records Bureau data reveals that the vulnerable age for women in India is between 18 and 32 years, the same data indicates disproportionate inter-community rape of minors in some states. This pattern indicates a caste-based conflict and is evident through the specific targeting of girls with rape.
The report adds, "The recorded rape of young girls from the Scheduled Castes is overwhelmingly from Madhya Pradesh, followed by Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. These states account for over half the cases involving children from the Scheduled Castes." In a similar fashion, the recorded rape of minor girls from Scheduled Tribes is "overwhelmingly from Madhya Pradesh, followed by Chhattisgarh. These two states account for 25% of the recorded atrocities against young girls, followed by Maharashtra, Telangana, and Gujarat. Telangana and Gujarat show an increasing trend."
Crimes against women, in general, are less likely to be reported, resulting in fewer charge-sheets filed. "While the difference in percentage between charge sheeting of murder and rape is not as significant (SC: murder 92: 89; rape and ST 93:95), for attempting to commit murder and attempting to commit rape, the difference is non-trivial (SC 92:58 and ST 94:42)."
The document goes on to mention various actions that can be taken by various organizations and governments to enhance women's safety. The recommended actions are listed below:
Record even the most 'trivial' complaints. From these 'trivial' beginnings, significant issues may arise. As shown, there is underreporting of crimes against women, resulting in virtually no records of 'attempt to commit rape,' let alone crimes such as voyeurism and stalking that often precede rape and serve as early warnings. This trivialization has contributed to the 1145% increase in rapes over the past decade. This trivialization is also why the classification of 'identified (atrocity-prone) areas' is flawed and does not provide sufficient early warning.
If any counter-case is registered against the Scheduled communities, it should be promptly brought to the attention of the superintendent of police, recorded in the DYMC meeting minutes, and monitored by the district magistrate.
Offenses mentioned under Section 3(1)(r) should be made cognizable, even when they occur online or on social media, as is the case in Andhra Pradesh.
Community certificates are a leading cause of delay. They should be issued at birth to those whose parents belong to the Scheduled communities. The backlog, i.e., issuing certificates to those who do not have community certificates as of the present date, should be cleared through special drives and camps within six months.