Bangalore: A new report released on 24 June by Sisters for Change and Karnataka Dalit Mahila Vedike (KDMV) turns a spotlight on the violence faced by rural Dalit women and girls in 8 districts of North West Karnataka, Southern India. The findings are alarming: 3 in 4 Dalit women said they had experienced physical or sexual abuse or violence and 3 in 5 Dalit women said they felt unsafe in their community on a daily basis.

The report, Breaking down barriers to justice: Making the Indian criminal justice system work for Dalit women victims of violence, provides evidence from a representative survey conducted in late 2015 and legal cases from across 8 rural districts of North West Karnataka – four of which are classified as ‘atrocity prone’ due to high levels of violent crimes against Dalits. The most common type of abuse experienced by Dalit women was humiliation, verbal insult and intimidation. The second was sexual violence. Nearly half of male perpetrators of violence against Dalit women were someone known to them in the local community, including dominant caste perpetrators, family members and neighbours.

Findings reveal that when Dalit women reported crimes of violence, the majority of victims (75%) were disbelieved, blamed or told by the police that the violence was not a crime or that they should not register the case. In a staggering 71% of cases, no action was taken against the perpetrator. 3 in 4 Dalit women victims received no compensation and 64% of Dalit women surveyed said they did not feel they had equal access to justice due to their caste and low economic and educational status. The report highlights the brutal daily reality of violence affecting Dalit women and the complete failure of the State justice system to respond and punish their attackers.

One of the starkest findings from the legal review presented in the report is the impunity enjoyed by dominant caste perpetrators of violence. The cases managed by KDMV Community Paralegals showed that cases were routinely dropped by police on the grounds of “insufficient proof” or “unproven allegations” and even in the cases where offenders were charged, police routinely charged them for lesser offences under the Indian Penal Code. The report also finds that victims and witnesses subject to intimidation and threats by perpetrators receive little or no protection from police, despite their awareness of such threats.

The report makes 9 concrete recommendations for action, including the establishment of a new tripartite cell at the district level made up of representatives from the police, the Social Welfare Department and the Civil Rights Enforcement Department to ensure cases of violence against Dalit women are effectively investigated and prosecuted.

Karnataka has one of the lowest conviction rates for crimes against SCs/STs in the whole of India. This report makes it clear that it is high time the system began to respond and deliver justice to Dalit women.

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