It’s been two months since a young Dalit woman was brutally raped and killed in Hathras in India and, in contrast to the swift action by the government in previous cases, there has been little action taken since the four men allegedly responsible were arrested. The 19-year-old woman was found in a paralytic state not far from her home in Boolgarhi village in September. She was initially treated at a district hospital and then at JNMC hospital in Aligarh before being shifted to Safdarjung hospital. Before she died a few days later, she said that four upper-caste men had gang-raped her and strangled her.
The four men are in police custody, but since their arrest, four Muslim men who travelled to Hathras to visit the woman’s family in a show of support and sympathy have also been arrested on charges of sedition as it seems the Uttar Pradesh government wanted Muslim scapegoats to divert attention from the rape case. The Muslim men were raising funds for the victim’s family as, according to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the victim’s family are living in conditions similar to a house arrest. The family has also expressed fear for their lives once the official protection given to them is withdrawn. The police have characterized the Muslim men’s interest in the victim’s family as a terrorist conspiracy to trigger caste riots over the rape and murder.
That crime, along with the subsequent conduct of the police and Uttar Pradesh government, has brought stark attention to the plight of Dalit women in a country that still clings to its outdated and barbaric caste system. As it happens, the young woman who was allegedly gang-raped in September died at the same hospital where Jyoti Singh, a member of the higher Bhumihar caste, died in 2012 after she was gang-raped and tortured on a private bus in what became known as the Nirbhaya case that sparked an international outcry about sexual violence in India.