Four men, including a Brahmin priest, have been accused of raping and murdering a nine-year-old Dalit child in a crematorium in the nation’s capital on August 1, and then cremating her following protests from her mother. Less than a year ago, in September 2020, four upper caste men were arrested for raping a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Two weeks later, she succumbed to her injuries and was reportedly forcibly cremated by police while her parents and family were locked in their home. In both cases, the parents of poor Dalit victims were seen as inconsequential. They are Dalit parents and it seems they have no rights over their children, not even over their corpses.
Weeks earlier, in July 2021, four men posing as police officers were accused of raping two underage girls on Benaulim Beach in Goa. The chief minister’s response was to blame the parents, asking them how their children were allowed to go out on their own so late. The CM of Goa has been severely attacked on social media and reminded of the government’s responsibility to ensure law and order. He responded by asserting his own status as the parent of a 14-year-old girl, perhaps attempting to suggest that he responded as a “parent”, a “good” parent.
Comments from the Goa CM regarding the teens being on the beach all night suggested that the parents of these girls not only “protected” their wards, but also failed to adequately control them. Parents here are charged with the responsibility of being the “guardians” of their daughters’ virtue by limiting their bodies to spaces where they could be controlled. It is this virtue that is linked to the reputational ideas of families, communities and, indeed, of a homogeneously defined Indian culture. Children, especially girls, have few rights. The Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) (2012) raised the age of consent from 16 to 18, giving the state the right to decide that young people between the ages of 16 and 18 do not have no rights over their own body in sexual contexts.
The state often tends to arrogate to itself the status of parent, its citizens often being perceived as recalcitrant children, but also when it chooses, as in this case, it arrogates to itself the right to return to citizen-parents. of minors, abandoning its role as Patriarch State. In this case, the state represented here by the CM of Goa asserts the right of parents over their children as disciplinarians and guardians of their virtue and morals. These anxieties are particularly found in the bodies of Hindu women of the upper castes and it is their parents who are recognized as having rights over the bodies of their children.
This is reflected in the concerns expressed over the amorous jihad scarecrow and the anti-Romeo squads set up in Uttar Pradesh to ensure that “good” Hindu girls are not “trapped” tricks ”of Muslim men. They reflect the zealous way in which upper-caste Hindu families are held to control their daughters, over whom they have property rights. However, the state is never fully convinced that parents can effectively control their rebellious daughters and, therefore, they continue to exercise their own controls. In a context of increasingly majority communitarization, the State does not know, for example, whether parents will regulate their children’s romantic choices satisfactorily and feels the need to intervene. The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance 2020 should be read in light of these observations. From the point of view of the communalized patriarchal state, women themselves are therefore commodities either of little importance if they are Dalits or Muslims, or of importance only as objects of the patriarchy if they are Hindu. and high caste.
Many women, of all castes and religions, refuse to be silent spectators of this parody. The Pinjra Tod movement against curfews in homes and the like grew out of such restrictions on women’s mobility, often supported by parents eager to take on oversight of their daughters’ choices and especially their sexuality. Young women subvert and resist the tactics of their parents and institutions to hold them back in various ways, often becoming deeply politicized in the process. These young women are a source of fear, and the fact that they are feared by the Patriarch State can be seen by the pattern of arrests of young women, many of whom are Muslims and Dalits, over the past 10 months, especially as a result of the anti-CAA protests.
What then happens when the Patriarch State is worried? He responds by becoming more and more authoritarian, demanding that the parent-citizen remain silent in the face of increasing violence from the powers that be or help state programs to control not only their daughters, but also its unruly populations.
Shilpa Phadke is a sociologist and co-author of Why Loiter? Women and risk in the streets of Mumbai