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India gang-rape puts caste system under spotlight

In India where a rape is committed every 22 minutes, very often the country's rigid caste structure is a contributing factor.

INDIA: In India where a rape is committed every 22 minutes, very often the country's rigid caste structure is a contributing factor.

The act of rape is often a crime of power against a lower caste community, of which the girls are actively targeted.

The recent shocking case of two teenage girls being gang-raped and hanged on a tree in Badaun, rural Uttar Pradesh, is a case in point.

The anger caused by the gang-rape and murder is not just about the sexual crime.

It is born of a desire to fight against the targeted exploitation of girls from the Dalit community, which is the poorest of the poor in India's rigid caste hierarchy.

In repeated statements of outrage, the international community has condemned the incident with words that centred around a belief that the Badaun gang-rape and murder was a direct consequence of rural Indian society's apparent tolerance of sexual violence against women.

In the province of Uttar Pradesh however, where caste differences actually define social fabric and daily life, the gang-rape and murder is now being seen in terms of caste.

A protester against the gang-rape said: "We were protesting against the atrocities that the Dalit people face by burning an effigy of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. The police have brutally beaten us up."

Ranjana Kumari, a women’s rights activist, said: "The world is looking at India and how girls are being targeted, especially the Dalit girls. We are determined to fight against it."

They believe they themselves need to take on the fight, despite the ironically belated promise by Uttar Pradesh state chief Akhilesh Yadav to fast-track the case.

Kiren Rijeju, India's Junior Home Minister, said: "Any crimes against people from lower castes, the lowest castes, lowest tribes should be dealt with under laws designed to protect lower castes.

“And the interior ministry has now asked for the much belated implementation of legislation that should have been activated immediately."

Thus, even though the international community's outrage may be viewed as slightly missing the point by those on the ground in Uttar Pradesh, it has helped the case become politicised and be taken seriously by local, state and even national government figures. 

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