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Not enough outrage

There were large-scale protests across the country, especially in the national capital. The protests in the national capital had even brought the then UPA government to a standstill. It also brought the issue of women’s safety into mainstream political discourse, even if the political class only paid lip service to it. Amidst all the outrage against the perpetrators and the resurgence of women’s safety in the political discourse, there were some who did not join the outrage party. 

Although the Nirbhaya incident was no doubt horrific, it was neither the first nor the last time women in this country would be subject to such brutality. Rapes against women from India’s marginalised communities occur on a regular basis. According to the International Dalit Solidarity Network, which conducted a three-year study of 500 Dalit women across four states, it was found that 45.8 percent of them were subject to physical assault and 23.2 percent were raped. In conflict zones across Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, and the Northeast, local women are often subject to sexual assault by both the armed forces and insurgent groups.  Large-scale riots, for example, are also events where rape is a tool used by the perpetrators to target women from a particular community—be it the Muslims of Gujarat in 2002 or the Sikhs of Delhi in 1984.

Although the outrage against the Nirbhaya incident was completely justified, it was disproportionate to the attention given to other such incidents of violence.  The sceptics of the Nirbhaya outrage party believe that much of the righteous anger against such forms of violence was down to what the victim represented. In other words, the outrage in the Nirbhaya case was simply a function of her caste, class, and more than anything else, the place New Delhi. 

These sceptics were unsure whether the outrage against incidents of violence against women could sustain itself for the long run. Last week, they were proved correct, when a 30-year-old Dalit woman was raped and murdered in Perumbavoor, Kerala. The assault against this woman was so brutal that her intestines were pulled out of her body. The nature of assault is reminiscent of what happened to Nirbhaya on that fateful night of December 2012. One week has passed since the incident, but the national media remains a mute spectator. It took reports on social media and an assortment of independent news websites for many Indians to even find out what had happened.

 We have seen neither the same level of outrage nor the incessant media coverage, save a few news websites and local Malayali news outlets, in the Perumbavoor case as with Nirbhaya. Is it because the general public has been desensitised to the nature of violence against women that is reported on a daily basis? Or is it because for India’s cosmopolitan and aspirational class, this Malayali Dalit woman is not a person just like us?  However, there is another disturbing question that has been raised by the sceptics of the Nirbhaya outrage party. Have rapes against Dalit women become too common for real and sustained outrage? These are questions that one must ask. At the very least, the national media must now pick up on the horrific incident and report on it.  

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