The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, organized a massive protest in New Jersey on October 10, 2020, over the gang rape and killing of a Dalit girl in Hathras, in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.
The hasty and forceful cremation of the victim’s body by the Uttar Pradesh police has sent shock waves across India and indeed around the world. The inhumanity of the crime was amplified by the brazenness of the state government’s attempt to shield the perpetrators. The indifference shown to the value of human life by those in positions of power was the focus of the ire and outrage by protesters at the rally.
The protest was organized by the New Jersey unit of IAMC, and was supported by members of other civil society groups such as Hindus for Human Rights, India Civil Watch, Sadhana, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, Muslims for Progressive Values, MANAVI, Dalit Solidarity Forum and Global Indian Progressive Alliance among others.
“The Hindu nationalist government in India protects perpetrators of brutal sexual crimes against Dalit women, because it doesn’t treat Dalits as equal citizens,” said Mr. Minhaj M Khan, President of the New Jersey chapter of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) at the rally on Saturday. He was addressing a large gathering of peaceful protesters from New Jersey and New York. The protestors; key demand was justice for the 19-year-old Dalit girl who was gang raped on September 14, 2020, by four men belonging to the influential upper caste Thakurs in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh. The victim died two weeks later in a hospital in Delhi, after suffering paralysis due to severe injuries to her spinal cord, leading to national and international outrage and protests.
“Dalit lives do not matter under India’s Hindu nationalist government and the state of Uttar Pradesh has only acted in a manner consistent with the national government’s repressive policies towards Dalits and religious minorities. Not only did the state’s chief minister Adityanath deny that the girl was raped, he refused a dignified death to her, and protected the culprits because they are from the same upper caste as him,” he said.
Jawad Khan, the national General Secretary of IAMC, highlighted the fact that according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau more than 500 Dalit women were raped in Uttar Pradesh under Adityanath regime in 2019 alone. In 2018 almost 3000 Dalit women were raped in UP of whom 871 were minors. On an average 8 Dalit women are raped everyday in India.
“Adityanath is not capable of serving people in accordance with the Constitution. He protected the culprits of the gang rape and instead hired a public relations firm to push a narrative that the gang rape in Hathras, was a conspiracy of ‘outsiders’,” Mr. Khan said while addressing the protesters who wore masks, raising placards in their hands. They raised slogans against India’s Hindu nationalist government as well as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath has been known to run private militias with a criminal record that goes back several decades.
“The unfortunate reality is that under the administration of Modi government, members of upper caste and of those who believe in the neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva, are more equal than others. We are here to demand that the Indian state ensure justice to the family of the victim, in not only this case but in all other cases of sexual violence against Dalit women,” said Mr. Sheik, a board member of IAMC.
Dr. Murli Natarajan from India Civil Watch International, condemned the gang rape in Hathras and said that the “brutality that happened in Hathras, was yet another in a very long series of moral horrors perpetrated against Dalits by caste-supremacist patriarchs.”
“We condemn their brazen denial of the rape, their cowardly cover-up of the frequency of rapes, their shameless glorification of the rapists, their bigoted denigration of rape victims, and their denial to the family of the right to grieve with dignity,” he added.
A representative of Dalit Solidarity forum in the USA, said that the protest was an expression of condemnation of “the rapid increase in the unacceptable social condition of Dalit women unable to defend rights to our own bodies and self-respect. We are repeatedly devalued, raped and mutilated.”
Nilab Nusrat, a representative from Hindus for Human Rights, said “I can’t stay silent when a 19-year-old girl is getting gang-raped and killed and the rapists are not brought to justice because they are members of the upper caste.”
IAMC is dedicated to promoting the common values of pluralism, tolerance, and respect for human rights that form the basis of the world’s two largest secular democracies – the United States and India. (Courtesy: Indian American Muslim Council)