On July 30, 2007, a 25-year-old married woman of Sultanpur village in district Shivpuri was raped by three persons as she stepped out of her home to attend to nature's call. The incident took place on July 30. The police have registered a case and launched a manhunt for the accused.
On that same night, a teenage girl was locked up in a house and gang raped in Lohara village, which comes under the Ajad police station of Badwani. The young woman, who had also come out of her house at night to attend to nature's call, was forcibly taken and repeatedly raped by two village youth. She managed to escape the following day. The police have registered a case and launched search for the culprits.
A 15-year-old scheduled caste girl was raped in Shajapur, which falls in the Kanad police station area, by three youth of the Rampura Badwas village.
However, owing to threats from the culprits, the family could not register a complaint till three months later. The police have now registered cases against the accused, who are at large.
Unfortunately, these cases of rape are no exception. In recent times incidents of this heinous crime in Madhya Pradesh have been on the rise. A report that was recently tabled in the State Assembly, based on the state and police records, throws light on such atrocities committed against women.
At a glance, the data reveals that a total of 136 cases of mass rape have been reported in the state between February and June this year. A majority of the victims belong to the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Out of the 136 victims, 50 are SC, 37 are ST and 29 are OBC, while only 20 belong to the general category.
Bhopal-based political analyst Girija Shankar says that in a state like Madhya Pradesh, rape, for members of the upper caste, is a means of exacting power rather than of sexual gratification. According to Shankar, rape is the easiest way for powerful people to build pressure on the weak.
Sandip Naik, State Coordinator, Hunger Project, which works with women in the panchayats (village councils), says, "There are two reasons for this attitude: casteism and the feudal system. When the powerful have to exploit the powerless, rape is the easiest thing for them."
According to him, the influential sections of society loathe the fact that a large number of SC/ST women are bettering their conditions by availing of the opportunities provided by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and the Panchayats. The influential often retaliate by committing mass rape.
Sachin Jain, Convenor, Right to Food campaign, (a network of organisations and individuals committed to the realisation of the right to food in India) says, "Such cases did occur in the past, too. But more are coming to light now. Victims now approach the police as they want to lodge a complaint. Yet, even today, it is not easy to register a case."
Of course, there are those who attribute the rise in the number of rape cases registered to the state provision of compensation - worth Rs 50,000 (US$1=Rs
40) - for SC/ST women, who are victims of rape. However, Jain dismisses the allegation that women are registering cases for the sake of the compensation. According to him, "Honour is the biggest thing for a woman in the village. No woman can compromise with her honour for the sake of money."
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, while talking to the media in the State Assembly, declared that his government would not spare the guilty in case of mass rape. Yet, statistics paint a different picture. Of the 136 cases of mass rape registered between February 21 and June 30 this year, in 38 cases, the accused could not be arrested. In 26 cases, the accused are still reported to be at large. In three cases, DNA tests are to be performed.
In 1996, 'pattas' were given to 44 dalit (people belonging to the lower caste) families in Gadarwada village of Narsingpur district. Under the slum upgrading and resettlement scheme, a 'patta' or land title is given to residents in the hope that they will make a further investment to improve their housing conditions and living standards. This initiative also acts as a guarantee against future eviction. The 'pattas' were given after acquiring land from people of the upper castes. Consequently, on June 24, 2007 dalits were attacked and their houses and fields, damaged. While no case has been registered yet, the incident has resulted in a 35-year-old woman being threatened with gang rape.
The woman in question is Babita Jatav, who attempted to draw attention to the assault on the dalits by visiting the police station and NGOs. While no first information report (FIR) was filed, Jatav, who lives in Khursi Par village of Narisghpur district, drew flak and threats from the upper castes.
But it's not only the trauma of the act that women have to live with. Adding to their woes is the taboo associated with having been raped. So much so that victims, who are usually farm workers or employed in the panchayat, often suffer from rejection by society as village women often avoid interaction with rape victims.