Dalit women and rape statistics

From Rahila Gupta in the New Statesman, here’s a shocking fact I didn’t know:

…the conviction rate for rape cases brought by Dalit women stands at an appallingly low 2 per cent as compared to 24 per cent for women in general.

I shudder to think how that plays out in court. I also wonder why the higher number is so much higher than the US rate, which is from 2 to 9 percent according to the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender. (If people wonder why rape victims don’t rush to tell the cops, that conviction rate has to be one reason. Go through that just to see an acquittal? Doesn’t sound like much fun.)

One organisation, Jan Sahas (People’s Courage), which represents Dalit women who work mainly as manual scavengers (cleaning dry toilets with their bare hands) has bucked the trend by raising the conviction rate from 2 to 38 per cent. Their director, Ashif Shaikh, was in London recently to pick up an award from the Stars Foundation for liberating more than 14,000 women from scavenging. He spoke about the innovative methods used by his organisation to improve access to justice for raped women.

Jan Sahas set up its own network of 350 lawyers, the Progressive Lawyers Forum, to provide legal support in over 5000 cases of atrocity, which included nearly 1,000 cases of rape against mainly Dalit women across six states in 2013, to counter the corruption of the public prosecution system. Lawyers earn 150 rupees per case (£1.50), low even by Indian standards, a payment rate that attracts incompetent individuals who are infinitely susceptible to bribes of 10-15,000 rupees (£100-£150) offered by the generally upper-caste families of the accused to scupper the case.

Jan Sahas has also trained 200 female survivors of sexual violence as “barefoot lawyers” to support victims currently going through the criminal justice system. Many of them are illiterate and do not know their rights. They face tremendous pressure from family members not to pursue the case either because of the stigma attached to it or because the family has been paid off by the accused, pressure from the wider community/village, pressure from the accused and the police.

Plus there’s the fact that the odds are horrendous.

Gupta makes a ferocious point at the end.

The untouchability of Dalits is so etched in Indian cultural attitudes that separate utensils are kept in caste-Hindu households for Dalits. Although rape is an act of violence, misogyny and male power, and although men everywhere can overcome other hatreds such as racism towards black women slaves, it is nonetheless staggering that men who fear defilement through less intimate forms of “touch” think nothing of flushing themselves into the bodies of Dalit women.

It is, isn’t it.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    With those odds (2%), why bother reporting? It’s only going to amount to a whole lot more abuse for the victim.

  2. Hj Hornbeck says

    That PDF from the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender has quite a few pages where there’s more footnote than written content.

    I am in love.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    I also wonder why the higher number is so much higher than the US rate

    You have to be careful what numbers you’re comparing. Possible definitions of “conviction rate” include number of guilty verdicts divided by:
    1. Total number of cases of rape reported to police and prosecuted as such.
    2. Total number of cases of rape reported to police and prosecuted as something else (e.g. sexual assault)
    3. Total number of rape cases reported to the police and recorded but not prosecuted (reasons for not proceeding with prosecution may include but are not limited to shame or victim intimidation leading to withdrawal of allegation, lack of sufficient evidence leading to prosecuting authority judging that it cannot make a case to criminal court standards, false allegation)
    4. Total number of rape cases including those not reported to police or any other authority.

    I suspect the Indian conviction rate you consider “high” is in fact an example of one of the first 3 (following the links it’s hard to tell). If it’s (1), it is about where you’d expect. UK numbers show that if your rape report is referred to the CPS, it will result in a charge about two thirds of the time, and two thirds of those will result in conviction – so about mid-forties conviction rate for credible reports made to police. Crucially, this is relatively consistent with other violent crimes, e.g. GBH. That version of “conviction rate” seems to be about where it “should” be in a functioning justice system.

    The US figure is an example of (4). The difference, then, should be no surprise. It’s entirely down to the inclusion of unreported cases. Given the relatively backward, patriarchal culture in India, I’d bet folding money that the rate of reporting in India is lower than in the US, and if you compared like with like you’d find the conviction rate in India was much lower.

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