Dalit Lives Matter! A Cry to Rage Against the Horrifying Violence of Saffron Terror in India, by India Civil Watch
In Hathras, cops barricade a raped woman’s home,
hijack her corpse, set it afire on a murderous night,
deaf to her mother’s howling pain. In a land where
Dalits cannot rule, they cannot rage, or even mourn.
This has happened before, this will happen again.
. . . .
Sanatana, the only law of the land that’s in force,
Sanatana, where nothing, nothing ever will change.
Always, always a victim-blaming slut-template,
a rapist-shielding police-state, a caste-denying fourth estate.
This has happened before, this will happen again.
These haunting words from Meena Kandaswamy’s poem, Rape Nation, were penned in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), by four men from the dominant-caste community of Thakurs. This horrifying incident of casteist violence was followed by unimaginable police brutality and complicity with the dominant-caste perpetrators throughout the investigation. Similar cases of rapes and killings have been reported from across North India in the past month, bearing witness to the escalation of centuries-old structural violence against Dalit women under extremist Hindutva’s reign of terror in recent times.
Horrified by the aforementioned rape, murder, and brutality in Hathras, and the alarming number of rapes and killings that have been reported in India just in the last month, the international community of academics, professionals and individuals from across the United States, Canada, Europe, United Kingdom, Latin America, Africa, and Asia Pacific has joined social movements in India to strongly condemn the shocking crimes rampant in India against Dalits, and especially against Dalit women, as part of the intensification of India’s Saffron terror. The condemnation statement calls for prosecution of the dominant caste men and police who committed the heinous crimes in Hathras and in all other recent cases, and it demands that the attacks on activists and journalists and the repression of dissent in India stop immediately. At the same time, we want to echo the arguments of abolitionists who underscore that our quest for justice cannot be limited to prosecution by an authoritarian state that protects the interests of dominant caste Hindus. Justice for Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis, Kashmiris, and all those who are being silenced at this time can only become possible with the abolition of caste and militarized capitalism in India.
The statement has been endorsed by over 1800 signatories, who include world renowned political activists, eminent Dalit and Black intellectuals, as well as scholars of South Asian Studies, critical race studies, critical caste studies, and feminist studies. Among the prominent signatories are Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Maude Barlow, Barbara Harris-White, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Arjun Appadurai, Shailaja Paik, Suraj Yengde, Rod Ferguson, Katherine McKittrick, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Laura Pulido, Huma Dar, Nida Kirmani, and Meena Dhanda as well as international organizations such as the Dalit Solidarity Forum in the USA, National Women’s Studies Association, SEWA-AIFW (Asian Indian Family Wellness), CodePink, and Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau-Quezon City, and journals such as Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, Feminist Studies, and AGITATE: Unsettling Knowledges. A number of academic departments and programs including Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University; and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and the Human Rights Program at University of Massachusetts-Boston have also signed the petition.
At this crucial historical moment when George Floyd’s brutal murder by a white police officer in Minneapolis has reignited the Black Lives Matter Movement in the U.S. and across the globe, the rapes and murders of Dalit women in U.P. by dominant-caste men have galvanized tens of thousands of protestors across the world to rise up against the police state that operates in the service of violent Hindutva in India, and to demand justice for the victims and survivors of this horrific violence. The petition has generated important debates about what transnational solidarity can and must look like at this time. The strong expressions of solidarity from academic institutions are significant because of the systematic violence that is regularly perpetuated in these spaces through exclusionary practices that are deeply racialized and where merit becomes a dominant-caste property or entitlement.
In a powerful video statement on this matter, philosopher and political activist Angela Y. Davis emphasizes the need to forge meaningful international solidarity at this time of global outcry against the structures of white supremacy and casteist-Brahmanical patriarchy. She gives a shout out for ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Dalit Lives Matter,’ and ‘Muslim Lives Matter,’ reminding us of the important connections between these calls for justice and struggles for human dignity. Pointing to the long history of connections between these communities that go back to the time when slavery was legal in the United States, Angela Davis asks Black people in the United States to express their rage against racial, sexual, and caste-based violence against Dalit women in India. In another video statement from India, Ruth Manorama, President of the National Federation of Dalit Women in India, fiercely echoes this cry for solidarity. She places the discrimination experienced by Dalit women in the context of the historic, structural, and systematic nature of caste oppression in India and calls for Black Americans and Dalits to unite to fight against racial and caste discrimination.
Other signatories share a deep concern that the cases of rapes and murders are symptomatic of an authoritarian regime that is arresting intellectuals, students, writers, artists, civil liberties lawyers, and activists; that is systematically hounding those dissenting against a major constitutional amendment targeted at India’s Muslim citizens, and that is prosecuting those protesting Indian occupation of Kashmir. This blatant authoritarianism and repression affirm the terrifying reality that the Indian state is now openly promoting a violent Hindutva and casteist order that loots, rapes, humiliates, and tortures those whom it oppresses, exploits, and dispossess of land, community, and human rights.
That the Hathras incident will not be forgotten as just another case of state-condoned violence against Dalits, is evident in the need for global solidarity expressed by many of the signatories. In his comment on the petition, signatory Christopher Queen, a Religious Studies scholar who has written extensively on socially engaged Buddhism in Asia and the West, draws parallels between racialized and caste-based violence — “Like the violent racism in the United States, which is allowed by corrupt officials and callous citizens, the escalating brutalization of Dalit citizens, particularly women and girls, is a growing plague at the heart of a nation claiming to uphold democratic institutions and humane values.” The international outrage triggered by the murder of George Floyd in the U.S., and the recent rapes and murders of Dalit women in India require that the international community stand together in our condemnation and our demands for dismantling the structures of racialized and casteist heteropatriarchal capitalism. We embrace the powerful words of Roja Singh, a Dalit and Indigenous studies scholar, “We, as a human community are capable of finding solidarity in this increasing pandemic of racist and casteist sexual violence. We raise our collective voice – Dalit Lives Matter! Yes, we have to accept and feel the extremely painful fact that Dalit women have been raped, mutilated, murdered, and burnt. We rise from their ashes as a regenerative international solidarity group – a global movement – a cry for restorative justice and human dignity justice for all. In the words of poet June Jordan, ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for.’”
*This statement is supported and endorsed by the AGITATE! Editorial Collective.