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October 10, 2015

Dalit Women Stripped: It Is The Republic Of India That Stands Naked



[This is an AHRC Article.

Republished in Counter Currents]

It is the Republic and not a Dalit family that stands naked in front of Dankaur Police Station in Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, located not more than 50 kilometres from the national capital. There are “conflicting” reports, as well as pictures and videos, which have gone viral on social media about what exactly transpired, i.e. if one can still believe anything the Indian media machine churns out in the never-ending Television Rating Point hunt.

The reports are indeed fuzzy. A few of them like this one have reported the incident as a protest by the family against the police who refused to register their First Information Report (FIR) about the loot of family valuables, including a motorcycle. Such reports claim – and corroborate the claim with statements by unnamed local residents – that “family members deliberately tore their clothes themselves to create ruckus”.

A few others, mostly Hindi sources (like this one), which have also been quoted in the international media (like here) have brought forward a different version: the family was stripped naked by the police when they went to the Police Station to register their complaint about the loot on October 8. They add that criminals robbed Sunil Gautam, head of the family, on Wednesday night near Atta in Noida. He went to Dankaur Police Station on Thursday to register an FIR, along with his wife and baby, and sat in protest outside the police station when police refused to register the same, despite being obligated to do so. These reports add that the cops got angry at this impertinence, assaulted the family, and tore off their clothes. Another report, in yet another newspaper, quotes the victim saying that he was making rounds of the Police Station for three days. 

Amidst all the “conflicting reports”, one fact is crystal clear: the family ended up naked in front of a Police Station in a market with a large crowd in attendance that was busy filming the incident on their phones and not helping either side: the family if it was indeed stripped or the police, if the police were indeed trying to cover up the naked family. 

From this emerges another fact. The decision to strip off their clothes cannot come easily to the women of a country that, despite all its democratic pretensions, still abides by the strongest patriarchal codes of honour and Victorian morality hinged on the bodies of its women. Going naked in such a society, now armed with cell phone cameras to record the act and derive sadistic pleasure out of it, betrays the desperation that pushed them into this extreme form of a protest. 

Such desperation, which forces women to go naked in protest, is old hat for the republic. India has seen mothers of Manipur stripping in front of the headquarters of Assam Rifles, the oldest paramilitary force of the country, with placards screaming “Indian Army Rape Us” to protest against the rape and assault committed by those in uniform. It has also witnessed women of Govindpur Village of Jagatsingpur District in Odisha resort to going naked in protest against police atrocities. The immediate reason behind that protest was no different from the one in Dankaur. The women there were aghast at Odisha Police’s dogged refusal to lodge an FIR against a bomb attack allegedly carried out by hired goons of POSCO, a multinational steelmaker giant. The attack killed several members of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) that has been opposing forcible land acquisition by the company.

And, there is another fact exposed amidst the cacophony of all the “conflicting reports”. The Indian justice institutions have abandoned a significant section of the citizens for long. Even a person with a cursory idea of Indian justice institutions would know how difficult it is to seek redress in the self-designated “largest democracy of the world”. How else can it be in state where the law enforcement agencies chose not registering complaints as the best way of bringing down the crime rate?

It is this that should bother everyone in the Dankaur case, far more than the question of ‘who stripped them’ that has been spun in this case. As it is, the Uttar Pradesh police, like almost all provincial law enforcement agencies in India is known more for the crimes committed, not averted, investigated, or solved. And, this is particularly so in terms of cases of sexual assault. In fact, not even a week has passed since a female constable of the UP Police accused several colleagues of gang raping her inside a police station.

Uttar Pradesh is not known for standing by either Dalits or women. These are two of the most marginalised communities of the state. The state keeps witnessing cases of Dalit women being paraded naked by the so-called upper castes, without as much as a frown. Though many such cases never get reported because of both the social stigma attached and the administration’s attempts to brush them under the carpet, the last reported case came from Sitapur, as recently as in May.

Dankaur exposes, yet again, how the Indian justice institutions deny justice to the poor and needy more often than delivering the same to them. This is lost in the political discourse that keeps the myriad of news channels churning without ever recognizing that a country without a functioning justice system cannot be a democracy. Unfortunately, many even in the civil society fail to see this despite all the Dankaurs, by focussing more on the ‘political motives’ and all else but justice. Be it the murder over the rumour of eating beef in neighbouring Dadri (despite eating beef not being a crime in the state) or conflicting reports over Dankaur, the debate shifts to the politics of such crimes, not the injustice at the heart of the case and the redress that must be ensured for the victims.

Political debates over crimes are worthless unless one builds a system that prosecutes and punishes the guilty and ensures justice to victims. In the absence of such a system, one can keep moving from one debate to another, from Dadri to Dankaur, ascribing political motives behind hate crimes, sexual assaults, and what not. Crimes need to be investigated and punished to ensure justice or else they serve the agenda of those committing them.

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