Cases of rape, especially of minor girls, continue to rise and a numbed India asks: What is the government doing about it?
New Delhi: As public outrage mounts over the horrific gang rape and killing of an 8-year-old girl in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir, and the rape of a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, reports of the rape of minors have been surfacing nearly by the week.
The rape of a young girl in Surat, Gujarat state, last week was another shock to a public already reeling from rampant crimes against children.
Child rights activists say the menace of sexual violence across India continues to grow because of a culture of impunity and an absence of the fear of punishment.
And because the officials in charge are not doing enough to ensure that victims get justice, they are actually complicit in the impunity, the activists say.
“Even as we see [many] people standing in solidarity with rape victims and their families, some are trying to politicise the issue,” Reema Sahni, a child sex abuse expert, said.
“A rapist can be of any religion. The hard fact is that he is a rapist. Our fight should be against patriarchy and we need to push this harder.”
Sahni said India already has stringent laws but, unless there is fear of consequences in the minds of potential rapists, nothing would change.
“It’s time we contained threats [made] by perpetrators against rape victims or their families, and the delays in registering of cases, but what is needed foremost is speedy justice and convictions,” the child expert said.
Accusing some political leaders of trying to shield rapists, activist Roop Sharma said, “People are demanding death penalty for rapists. But one should understand the death penalty arises from disgust. It is a means of revenge. It’s not a solution. We need responsible political leaders, who can instill faith in the minds of people. It is shameful to see parliamentarians trying to protect rapists. If this is the culture that leaders spread, how can we expect justice for victims?”
Vrinda Grover, a senior lawyer, said the answer to why crimes such as rape continue to plague society has both social and legal connotations.
“We have people in positions of power who continuously believe in not respecting the dignity of women and do not treat them as equal,” Grover said. “Then, we have a system of governance, which is both corrupt and biased against women.”
The lawyer said those sitting in positions of political power are complicit in this impunity.
“And while all this happens, the Prime Minister is silent. What we read into this is that women and their dignity do not matter to him,” Grover said, adding, “We [women] are only useful in shouting slogans and adding some flavour to a political speech.”
She said the government had no interest in life, liberty and equal citizenship of women.
As for women parliamentarians, their silence speaks a thousand words,” Grover said. “It doesn’t matter whether rapes happened during the previous governments or not. In fact, it’s an extremely horrible way of addressing the issue, as they do.”
The lawyer said even as more than half the population continued to live in fear, elections were still being won by the same politicians.
“And that’s the tragedy of Indian democracy.”
But she saw some hope, as more and more cases of rapes are being reported in the media and women are coming forward.
“People are demanding answers,” Grover said. “The society is seeking accountability and does not see this as one of those things that they should be quiet about.”
She warned the death penalty alone would not solve anything.
“Even as little girls are becoming victims, because they are more vulnerable and helpless, people are talking about death penalty,” Grover said.
“But that is not a deterrent for any crime. The death penalty is a gimmick, meant to distract our attention from the reasons why the systems are not working.
“It is not the answer, but a part of the problem. It further strengthens the state and breeds the culture of violence.”
Grover said the caste system was also partly to blame.
“The values of a casteist society have been very wrong,” she said. “I don’t think they went wrong suddenly. The Constitution of India tried to set that right, but when you have people in power who have been constantly trying to subvert the Constitution, then those who are committing crimes, know they will easily get away with it,” she said.