Debating Hathras gang-rape: Gender is a social system that divides power in India

At best the incident has provided women with a jurisprudential opportunity through a crack in the wall between law and society to speak up against the suffocating fear that stalks women in UP

Debating Hathras gang-rape: Gender is a social system that divides power in India
user

Mrinal Pande

Going through the debates on rape, from the gruesome 2012 Nirbhaya rape to the equally horrific rape-murder of a Dalit girl in UP’s Hathras district this year, one thing becomes clear: Gender is a social system that divides power in India. Men have a clearly articulated agency for change and decision making. Women, especially young Dalit girls, remain abstract persons with abstract rights.

The level of sensitivity of the UP government and administration is clear from the despicable act of cremating the dead girl in the dead of the night, ignoring her family’s pleas and the heartless statement from the UP ADGP (Law & Order) saying the dead girl was not raped as per the forensic report.

The state has a female governor who has chosen to remain silent, as also the usually voluble Amethi MP Smriti Irani who first refused to speak out and has now justified the fortification of Hathras village when Congress party leaders led by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were manhandled and barred from visiting the kin of the dead girl. She says the Congress was trying to politicize the incident and make political capital out of it. Ms Irani has clear forgotten her widely-televised march after the

Nirbhaya rape yelling for the Congress govt to step down because it can’t protect its behan & betis

Except for the Congress, the slow and limp reactions of the SP and BSP were condemnable. Dalit BSP leader Mayavati’s belated reaction was more notable since she is a woman, a seasoned Dalit leader and has ruled UP five times as Chief Minister. The BJP’s Loni MLA Nand Kishore Gurjar was sharper and more vehement in his condemnation and demand for swift justice and harsh punishment for the 4 alleged perpetuators.

It was amazing that the senior police official last noticed spraying rose petals from a helicopter on kanwadiyas in UP, did not know his law. In 2013 the Verma Committee tweaked the older rape laws wiping off distinction between sex and gender and also removing the mandatory forensic proof of sexual penetration to establish rape.

Actually, Indian laws for protection of women are yet to confront the relation between the State and society. Since law is made by men with their own views on sexuality of women and adjudicated and argued mostly by officials like the UP ADGP, a final sentence on the perpetuators is usually delayed. The ADGP’s statement also reveals a dual view when dealing with rape and sex in rural India. Is the victim a human being on par with men or a suspect who may have’ invited’ rape?

In UP, rape cases have always been high. According to 2019 NCRB data, there were 87 cases each day. In 2018, 3,78,236 cases of crimes against women were registered, of which 32,033 were cases of rape though it is a crime which is under registered given the social stigma attached to it.


In 2019, a total of 3500 Dalit women were raped. Of these, one-third were from only two states: UP and Rajasthan. In Western UP, caste men have traditionally controlled land and power, both political and economic. This has resulted in inordinate power and a lust for subjugating the weak, with the result that young women from poor rural lower castes get the brunt of gang rapes. It is also no coincidence that soon after this, within two days, similar rapes of minors were reported from nearby districts of Balrampur, Azamgarh and Bulandshahr. Hathras district itself is a recent entity. It was carved out of tehsils from Agra, Aligarh and Mathura in 1997. It is an area where the gender ratio of women to men (871:1000) is one of the lowest in India.

“Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways”, wrote Thomas Kuhn, “in ways that these institutions themselves prohibit.” Liberal legalism is thus a product of a society and its power elite. And the reactions, or lack thereof, from the Governor, the CM, the women MPs and MLAs shows what ails UP where highhanded policing and male dominance in the judicial machinery is mostly considered legitimate.

“With all the historical baggage we carry,” writes the late justice Leila Seth, one of the truly emancipated legal minds India has produced, “it is difficult to understand and appreciate true equality…there are no definite parameters. What might have looked just and fair a century ago, in the manner of the treatment of women, no longer looks just and fair..” (Talking of Justice p24).

So today, gaining the right to enter the Hathras village, or decriminalization of articles against LGBTQ community or adultery, are not likely to speed up

India’s race towards true gender equality in a major way. Nor will they reduce the number of rapes taking place every minute anywhere in India. At best the incident has provided women with a jurisprudential opportunity through a crack in the wall between law and society to speak up against the suffocating fear that stalks women in UP.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines