In 2014, crimes against Scheduled Castes or ‘Dalits’ — the lowest hereditary Hindu social class in India — rose by 19% (NCRB 2015). Of crimes against Dalits, sexual assault and rape account for the top two crimes. Violence against Dalit women is borne from intersectional discrimination — in terms of gender, poverty and caste — and has become a social mechanism to maintain Dalit women’s subordination and reduce their capacity to participate in society or realise their rights. Sisters For Change considers it a form of ‘political’ violence against women.
The discrimination that helps perpetuate violence against Dalit women and impedes Dalit women’s constitutional rights to equality and access to justice is manifest in multiple state institutions. Ingrained caste and gender stereotyping in police officers is a significant barrier to reporting and investigating crime. In court, prosecutors and lawyers provide poor legal representation to Dalit women whom they consider part of a “branded community.” Judges fail to issue verdicts or impose punishments in Dalit cases that are required by law. The result is falling conviction rates for rape and abysmal conviction rates under the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (amended 2016). The Indian Supreme Court has itself criticised India’s criminal justice system for the fact that 90% of rape cases end in acquittal.
From 2016-2018 Sisters For Change worked across five States in India (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra) and Delhi to legally empower Dalit women to challenge social and institutional discrimination and hold public authorities to account. We worked with multiple partners, including networks of activists and Human Rights Defenders working with the National Dalit Movement for Justice and the National Dalit Campaign for Human Rights, and independent Mahila Samakhya Federations with State-wide networks comprising tens of thousands of Dalit and Tribal women. Read more about our campaign here