Dalit girl, mother stripped by "upper caste" Indian villagers

A Dalit teenager and her mother were stripped and beaten by "upper caste" men in front of villagers in India's northern Rajasthan state in a grim reminder that atrocities still take place in the name of India's ancient hierarchical caste system, news reports said Thursday, reported dpa.

Dalits or former "untouchables" were placed on the lowest rung of India's 3,000-year-old caste system that initially segregated people according to their profession but later grew into a rigid social hierarchy passed on from generation to generation.

Phooli Bai, 52, and her daughter Ramkanya, 16, were publicly humiliated by a group of Jat men, because she resisted when they tried to take away her daughter, NDTV television channel reported.

The incident occurred on Monday in Sihar village in Ajmer district of Rajasthan state, about 450 kilometres west of the capital Delhi.

"They tore off my daughter's clothes and tried to drag her outside our home. When I tried to save her they tore off my clothes also. They not only beat us badly but also shamed us in front of the whole village," Phooli Bai was quoted as saying.

After harassing and humiliating the women, the men told the family to leave the village, threatening to punish them severely if they complained.

The frightened family has been camping at a police station in Kekri town in Ajmer since Tuesday, fearing they will be killed if they return home.

"As we have complained against them our fear is that they will kill us," Phooli Bai's husband Satya Narayan Kamad said. "They won't spare us now."

Ajmer district police official Sarita Singh said a case has been registered against those identified by the women and investigations are on, but the accused had fled from the village.

Villagers of Sihaar claim they do not know anything about the incident, NDTV reported.

India has an estimated 220 million Dalits. Though their status was officially abolished more than half a century back, incidents of caste violence and discrimination continue to be a daily reality, especially in remote and backward rural areas.

Desperately poor, Dalits are still denied access to land ownership and compelled to work in bonded labour, as sweepers and scavengers who clean toilets and remove dead animals.

They are subject to physical, verbal and sexual abuse, usually by the "upper castes" with police complicity, according to human rights organizations.

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