Manisha Mashaal was five years old when her schoolteacher first called her an “untouchable” in front of the rest of her class. Mashaal, now 27, said she faced harassment from students and teachers alike in her village of Badarpur because of her background. She said teachers threw her schoolbag out of class and refused to check her homework, while students sang rhymes taunting her and other Dalit children.
But as she grew up, the rhymes increasingly turned into threats of sexual violence. By the age of 16, she began attending Dalit-community solidarity meetings to examine how she could protect herself. For Dalit victims of sexual violence response from police officers is often “How can you have been raped? You’re a Dalit — touching you would make anyone spiritually impure.” A study by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights found that more than 50% of Dalit women had…
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