India was in shock after the brutal rape and murder of a law student from the Dalit community.
By: Roshni Kapur
The savage rape and murder of a 30-year-old Dalit law student in Ernakulam district, Kerala, India has sparked a public outcry over the lack of protection for the country’s lower caste women.
Many protests have emerged across India in recent weeks.
But the protests held by law students and rights activists in Kerala’s Ernakulam district was probably one of the most palpably indignant that stretched for several days, demanding speedy investigation.
The victim, a 30-year-old law student known as “Jisha”, was found dead by her mother at their small and dilapidated home. She was preparing for her LLB supplementary examination when the attack took place.
Her mutilated body bore at least 30 stab wounds and part of her intestines had been removed using a sharp weapon. There were also signs of strangulation, torture, as well as rape when the autopsy and inquest reports were released.
Seven people – including two friends, a colleague and the victim’s dance teacher – were detained for questioning. But two of them were let off later.
“We can understand that people are very angry but we have very little evidence to find the accused,” police official K Padmakumar was quoted in an online article on the BBC.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the incident was “shocking” and the culprits “would be brought to book at the earliest”.
“Such a brutal attack could not have happened in our state. This was barbaric.”
Jisha’s murder drew immediate parallels with the notorious 2012 “Nirbhaya “case where a medical student known by the name Jyoti Singh was savagely gang raped and murdered on a Delhi bus.
The difference in the two cases is that Jisha was from the lower caste- the Dalits. She was brought up by her single working mother, who is from a “scheduled caste,” the lowest rung of India’s caste hierarchical system. Her mother did odd jobs and they lived in wretched poverty.
Dalit, a term synonymous with “crushed”, refers to the oppression, often violent, suffered by scheduled castes for centuries in India. Caste- related discrimination and violence is deeply entrenched in India.
“Dalits and indigenous peoples (known as Scheduled Tribes or adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a strong basis for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented by local authorities, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Earlier in March, a Dalit man was murdered in the state of Tamil Nadu allegedly for marrying a woman from a higher caste. In the same month, a PhD student from the University of Hyderabad committed suicide after facing ostracism and discrimination.
Protection for lower-caste women
While the string of rape cases, including the Delhi gang rape case, prompted calls to protect women across India, protection for lower-caste women demands greater calls.
Following the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the central government launched an initiative named ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ to increase security for women. But activists criticised the government for not doing its part to ensure the safety of women.
Kerala is one of India’s most developed states that enjoy relatively high levels of female literacy and empowerment.
Ranjana Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based women’s rights institute, described the Kerala attack as “one of the most horrendous incidents we’ve ever seen”.
“For four days they did not take any action, and only once the media got into it and women’s groups raised protests have they apprehended two people today,” she said referring to the police.
“That speaks volumes about the way these cases are handled. The government is acting in a callous manner. It is because of political neglect. It’s a very sad reflection on the way the way we look at women especially Dalit women. They are attacked on regular basis,” she added.
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