India’s Caste System: Rape on the Rise

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NEW DELHI — Incidents of rape in India have gone up tenfold in the past 40 years. Since 1971, recorded cases have skyrocketed from 2,500 to nearly 25,000, and police officials believe that only 10 percent of cases are actually reported and recorded.

The victims of these crimes are overwhelmingly female and range from women and girls in rural villages to women making their way into higher places of employment and wealth.

Many argue that the high rates of rape in rural areas of India such as Uttar Pradesh, where more than 60 million people live on less than $1 a day, are attributed to the caste system.

The caste system refers to a social hierarchy that dates back to around 2,000 B.C. Under the system, Indian society was divided into four main groups, with a fifth identified as the “untouchables.” These were the members of society below all the others in the system. They took care of all of the work that most people would prefer not to do, such as dealing with sewage and carrying out other “dirty work.” In other words, this group would be at the bottom of the economic ladder: India’s poorest.

Typically, when rape occurs today in these poorer regions, there is a male suspect of a higher caste and a female victim of a lower caste.

It is the caste system combined with other factors such as poverty, unemployment and gender inequality that many argue are at the core of the problem of rape and murder in India. The most recent reported case of rape in India has caused a national uproar, as the father of one of the victims has attributed the crime to the overwhelmingly influential caste system.

In May of 2014, two teenage Indian girls were raped and killed in the Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh State, one of the poorest areas of the country. The father of one of the girls feels confident that the crime was “a product of a conspiracy among Yadavs, members of the dominant caste in the area.”

The girls, cousins aged 14 and 15, were found dead hanging from mango trees in a nearby forest. Autopsies reported by the chief of the district police affirmed that they had in fact been raped and strangled to death. Two police officers, both of the Yadav caste, were taken into custody after being identified as prime suspects.

Despite suspects being identified, citizens of the area are unsure what the outcome will be because “charges of rape leveled by a low-caste father can have deep resonance [there], as for centuries upper-caste Hindus could attack, rape or even murder those in low castes with impunity.” In other words, the caste system has allowed many to get away with rape and murder before, and there does not seem to be much stopping it from happening again.

A remark met with great criticism came from the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who commented on the occurrence in Budaun by explaining, “Boys will be boys.” The chief minister has also criticized the recently passed anti-rape laws in India.

What will happen to the suspects remains to be seen. However, some feel that the uproar of this incident is progress in itself seeing as most rape victims in India throughout the years have remained silent and historically, their families would ostracize them.

After the vicious gang rape in New Delhi in December of 2012, however, there has been a national campaign to encourage victims to go to the police and report their crime. Following the 2012 incident, protests arose across the country. This led to India’s instituting important anti-rape laws.

These laws include the development of an online national registry for rapists. The Delhi government officials said they would register names and photographs of all convicted rapists.

Although this new system has been instituted, India has continued to see struggles for justice in rape cases throughout the country and the situation is far from being solved. Citizens worry that these laws will do little to improve the situation in the coming years due to the strong presence of the caste system and the lack of effort from government leaders.

Sources: NY Times 1, NY Times 2, The Guardian, NDTV, Indian Express, US History
Photo: Flickr

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