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*This post is part of  ‘Men Say No’ Blogathon at www.mustbol.in/team-blog*

Gender-based violence is a reality across the world, though the precise forms it may take are varied. What is striking about India–and more specifically, Delhi– is the perceived impunity with which men engage in acts of violence outside of homes (where one would otherwise expect the impunity to operate because of several factors related to the hegemony of the ‘family’). Women are molested, harassed, abducted, raped and brutally murdered by men who are very often complete strangers. Why is it so?

One thing that few people connect with gendered violence but which I consider vital here is the practice and underlying value system of caste. Indian society is striated with caste, its logics, its prescribed hierarchies and ways of seeing and acting in the world. For most of our country, caste is the invisible principle that orders social life. Crucially for us, it is a thought-system that promotes and perpetuates the idea that human beings are fundamentally not equal; that some are better/higher/purer than others by birth; no matter what a person does in his/her own life this distinction always exists; and those higher in the order are entitled to certain social/personal privileges over those below them. It also allows for the hideous idea that some people are not fully human.

Now leave aside the specificities of gendered violence and consider its conceptual underpinnings: men and women are not equal, their differences are natural and will always exist, and men are entitled to rights over women, including over their bodies. So a man, or a group of men, in a car upon seeing an unknown female walking down the street can unselfconsciously reconvene this entitlement. Harassment, abuse and rape are some words that help explain what happens when men act upon these sentiments. Add to this the lax policing in our cities and the loopholes in the legal system, and the notion of entitlement is thus provided institutional support.

What this suggests is that fighting gendered violence is not a matter of policing alone–though of course that will help–but also changing these ideas of naturalized hierarchies and entitlement over others, which in our society are fundamentally connected to caste (It is a related matter that women of lower castes are faced with the most brutal forms of violence, but are largely outside of the networks of civil society activism).

Not only does caste inflict violence on those towards the bottom but, a la Hegel, it leads to a distorted view of the world amongst those towards the top. Someone who grows up in an upper caste family which believes in privilege and enforces everyday hierarchies of caste is extremely likely to consider himself/herself a different species than others. Their views on those below are far from reality but often create a self-fulfilling sort of loop (eg. one considers the ‘other’ inherently violent, and when confronted, engages in preemptory acts of violence triggering the same response from the other, thereby confirming the initial hypothesis).

Caste also hinders real solidarity–upper caste women may not consider violence against lower caste women wrong such that it may warrant action on whom they consider their own. Caste is by its very nature a violent enterprise and has several effects on the world beyond, including gender. Therefore, those interested in gender equality must also fight caste. No more ‘caste is ok, but casteism is wrong’ business.

see also this.