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The Politics of Selective Protest

By Goldy M. George

28 December, 2012

India tremors under the shockwaves of extremely saddening incident of the cruel gang rape and brutal attack the 23-year-old physiotherapy student and her friend on December 16. The young lady is still in critical condition fighting for her life. It has certainly brought disgrace to the nation as a whole.

Apparently this incident has also instigated the women's organization to come on to the streets in large number for a larger struggle. The recent spontaneous mass rise of various women's and other democratic organizations in protest against the incident provides a ray of hopes in the mind of those who believe in justice and peace. This perhaps is a step ahead in Indian democracy when such mass outcry had been seen across the entire nation.

Three objectives of this process was vibrantly visible; one justice to the victims, two end such atrocious incidents against women and three the role of the state agencies in citizen's security. Notwithstanding, the manner the entire mob got mobilized and the way it has been placed in the media circuit raises a critical character of the Indian upper caste middle class psyche. How would it be if the victim was someone from rural, working class, Dalit or Adivasi community and the incident was much outrageous? This paper investigated this critical aspect with some of the recent incidents of similar nature.

Caste and Sexuality: Rape, Assault, Violence and Dishonor

The same day of the physiotherapy student was attacked another minor Dalit girl was gang raped in Raipur, Chhattisgarh whose case is yet to be filed by the police. [1] An eight-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and murdered in Saharsa district of Bihar. The body was found in a canal the next day. [2] Laxmi Oraon an Adivasi girl from Assam has been running from pillar to post for justice for the past five years but all her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. She was 17 then, and has been traumatised after her naked pictures begging for help were splashed nationally across the newspapers and TV channels. [3]

In January 2012, Rekha Chavan a Dalit woman was stripped, beaten by lathis and naked paraded by the Brahmins in Satara district of Maharastra. [4] In Bhopal on December 4, a 22-year-old pregnant Dalit woman was gang-raped by three persons in the old city and the police accepted the complaint two days later. [5] On October 8, another pregnant Dalit woman was abducted and raped by two youths in Kaithal district of Haryana. [6] In Hariyana alone it was the 15 th incident within a month period. Earlier on September 9 a minor Dalit girl was gang-raped by eight youths in Hisar district. In trembling shock her father commits suicide. [7] Followed by another incident on September 21 in Jind district when three youths entered the house of another Dalit woman and raped her at gunpoint in the presence of her children. She is in her mid 30s and mother to three children. [8]

In 2009 Anita Suryavanshi Dalit rights activist along with her husband was murdered in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh. The body of Anita was found after 10-days in a decomposed and disfigured state. Even the forensic report was not able to establish the cause of death till today. [9] None have been yet arrested in this twin-blind murder. In September this year a Dalit woman was assaulted, tortured and tonsured by locals after holding her responsible for the death of a youth under mysterious circumstances in Sambalpur district of Odisha. [10] A 19-year-old Dalit student from Alwar of Rajasthan alleged that upper caste men sexually assaulted her for trying to attend her college. She struggled for a month to get an FIR registered and is still waiting for justice after a year. [11]

Violence against Dalit Women – No anger, outcry or mobilization

Such cases of sexual, physical, psychological and mental attack on Dalit-Adivasi women generally go unnoticed. It is a common happening in most of those villages. Either the dominant caste or the presence of the police force creates . There are thousands of such incidents happening every day in a country like India, which perhaps is not shocking to the majority of 140 crore people. In many incidences it is also believe that a particular section in India like the Dalits or Adivasis deserve such treatment from upper caste as well as the state agencies. It is well understandable that the mob-cultured-outcry is not possible in such cases.

However the most disheartening component is the convenient silence of the so-called progressive sections of Indian society. No cry, no outcry, no protests, no demonstrations or even not a few beyond certain circles have even heard of such incidences.  This part of Indian society as well as progressive section is completely blank.

The Classical case of Soni Sodhi

The most disappointing among all in recent time is the way the women's movements, progressive forums and NCW handled the cast of Soni Sodhi. Soni Sodhi was arrested on October 4 2011 under the alleged charges of being a Maoist courier. After being continuously harassed and beleaguered for nearly a year, Sodhi had to run for her life leaving her home village in Dantewada. She was arrested in New Delhi on charges of transferring funds worth 1.5 million rupees from a corporate mining company Essar to the Maoist as “protection money”. Following her case arrest she was deported to Chhattisgarh, held in police custody.

In a letter to the Supreme Court of India Sodhi cries aloud of her physical, sexual, mental and psychological torture. In her letter she mentions that a police official forced her out of her cell, stripped her and gave her electric shocks causing acute pain and internal injuries over her body, head and spine. Her letters to her mentor Himanshu Kumar gives much detailed account of how she was tortured, the worst among it was the insertion of stones into her body by SP Ankit Garg. [12]

She was unable to walk while brought in the court on October 10, 2011. On October 29, 2011, the government medical college hospital in Kolkata examined her under Supreme Court orders, which reported back on November 14, 2011 that two stones had been inserted in her vagina and one in her rectum and she had annular tears in her spine. Sodhi still languishes in Raipur jail as a Maoist. Amnesty International has called her as a “prisoner of conscience”. Meanwhile, the state government rewarded Ankit Garg with a gallantry award. [13]

This brutal torture and inhuman woes didn't stop there. Sodhi's right to life and dignity have been violated by various jail and police authorities several times over – from foisting false cases against her, sexually torturing and humiliating her in the police station, denying her medical attention, and most recently, humiliating her by publicly stripping her in prison in the name of conducting physical search. [14] The so-called public outcry by the self-claimed aam-aadmi identity of the middle class did not only failed to address this question, rather it faked with the psyche of Adivasi women victims of sexual and societal violence.

Depoliticisation of Women's Movements!

The Indian women's movement to great extents has been depoliticized by the crude entry of her middleclass. In the post 90s one could observe a sea difference in the former. One of the key factors has been globalization, which grew the trends of large scale funding through NGOs and INGOs on women's issues. The erstwhile focus of rural or urban slum based Dalit, Adivasi, working class driven approach shifted to a classical middle class driven approach consisting of professional, skilled and expertized norms and rules.

This phase at one end roped in large number of professionally educated young people from relatively privileged backgrounds that were mostly hired to work on women's issues. Earlier women's groups generally comprising of the unprivileged ones or the victims took up such aspects, usually worked as volunteers. In the new scheme of things, the erstwhile rural Dalit-Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan volunteers do not find any space too. They are just misfits who are either not wanted anymore or required to be thoroughly trained by the new set of people. The ones who survive the odds and compromise to this are only a few; others are not part of it any more.

This is also the phase where a critical leadership emerged. The erstwhile Dalit-Adivasi women's leadership in mainstream movements began to limit to certain limited spheres. Whatever remained in the name of Dalit-Adivasi women's leadership was mostly from the city-based convent-educated ones with the go-get attitude. With them, there was no match of the rural women of similar communities. These few city-based Dalit-Adivasi women, who gained space in the mainstream movements, created a new class and at no level would they like to be identified with those in the villages.

This huge swing of ideological position led to a major shift in the tenor and character of the women's movement in its approach and attitude towards marginalized women, thereby reflecting a dearth of understanding of this caste-gender-power dynamics. Thus in recent times all core agenda of the women's movements were more centered around issues that hardly touched the poor, working class, Dalit-Adivasi women's day to day struggle to survive with human dignity. As a result all caste-based and ethnicity based rape, molestation, attempts to rape, assault, violence, discrimination and dishonor began to be unlooked by the mainstream organizations including women's organizations.

Narrating the experience of Dalit women in a village in Tamilnadu, Cinthia Stephen quotes a girl in these words: “ there is no girl in our lane who has not been coerced or raped by the dominant caste men when they go to the fields to fetch water or for work ”. Stephen's question is valid “ which upper-caste young woman, rural or urban, has ever had to brave repeated rape without to keep her family supplied with water? [15]

The daily story of a Dalit woman, the torture of an Adivasi woman is multiple times intense than the case at hand. It is even looked down by redressal forums like National Commission for Women. This is what it has happened with most of these women. It is high time the mainstream women's movement accept caste as the lifeline of this country and address the issue, create space for people from such sections and address each and every, otherwise all the past legacies may vanish off, in no time.

[1] Fact finding report by Dalit Mukti Morcha, December 26, 2012.

[2] Gaikwad, Rahi (2012) “8-year-old Dalit girl raped, killed in Bihar”, The Hindu, December 19, http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/8yearold-dalit-girl-raped-killed-in-bihar/article4218550.ece accessed on December 26, 2012

[3] Bisht, Akash (2012) “Stripped naked in public 5 years ago, tribal girl awaits justice”, The Weekend leader, Vol 3, Issue 51, Dec 21-27 2012, http://www.theweekendleader.com/Causes/1470/naked-injustice.html accessed on December 26, 2012.

[4] http://ibnlive.in.com/news/maharashtra-dalit-woman-stripped-paraded-naked/219908-3.html accessed on December 26, 2012.

[5] Times of India, (2012), “Pregnant Dalit woman gang raped”, December 8 http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-12-08/bhopal/35688846_1_pregnant-dalit-woman-water-tank-victim accessed on December 26, 2012.

[6] Daily Bhaskar, (2012), “Haryana horror continues; pregnant Dalit woman raped in Kaithal”, http://daily.bhaskar.com/article/HAR-haryana-horror-continues-pregnant-dalit-woman-raped-in-kaithal-3909621-NOR.html accessed on December 26, 2012.

[7] Zee News, (2012), “Haryana: Minor Dalit girl gang-raped, shocked father kills himself”, September 19, http://zeenews.india.com/news/haryana/haryana-minor-dalit-girl-gang-raped-shocked-father-kills-self_800630.html accessed on December 26, 2012.

[8] India Today, (2012), Haryana: Dalit Woman gangraped by 3 men in Haryana”, September 26, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/haryana-dalit-woman-gangraped-in-jind/1/222259.html accessed on December 26, 2012.

[9] Fact finding report by Dalit Mukti Morcha, January 2010.

[10] The Hindu, (2012), “Dalit woman assaulted, tonsured in Odisha; 10 held” September 9, http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/article3875103.ece accessed on December 26, 2012

[11] Vashishtha, Swati (2012), “Rajasthan: Dalit girl sexually assaulted for trying to attend college, awaits justice”, December 21, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/rajasthan-dalit-girl-sexually-assaulted-for-trying-to-attend-college-awaits-justice/311656-3-239.html accessed on December 26, 2012.

[12] Bharadwaj, Ashutosh (2012) “Soni's Story”, The Indian Express, August 5,

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/soni-s-story/983928 accessed on December 26, 2012.

[13] Amnesty International, (2012) “Release Soni Sori on International Women's Day”, March 7, http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/india-release-soni-sori-international-women-s-day-2012-03-07 accessed on March 15, 2012

[14] Statement of the Justice for Soni Sodhi Campaign, (2012), October 10,

[15] Stephen, Cinthia (2009) “Feminism and Dalit women in India”, November 16, http://www.countercurrents.org/stephen161109.htm accessed on November 10, 2010

Goldy M. George, a Dalit activist for nearly two decades, is a PhD scholar with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, School of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.




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