On the evening of January 10, a seven-year-old girl was playing near her house in Greater Noida. A 45-year-old man – a police constable, no less – approached the child and lured her with a Rs 10 note. The child was then raped, assaulted for over half an hour inside the man’s house, say reports. Her screams alerted the neighbours, who found her unconscious on the floor. The assaulter though managed to flee. However, he did come back to his home a few hours later, only to be nabbed by local residents, who then thrashed him with shoes before handing him over to the police.
As neighbouring Pakistan has erupted over the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab Amin, India is forced once more to confront its great shame – girls and women in our country are not safe, no matter what their age, or who the perpetrator is – from family members to community panchayats and law-keepers.
Every rape case is sickening. The rape of a seven-year-old child is brutal to say the least. That the alleged rapist is a policeman is equally chilling.
According to reports, the accused was posted in the sales tax department in Gautam Budh Nagar. The girl’s mother, a single parent, works in a bakery. If the police’s version is to be believed, the rape is an attack on someone most vulnerable by a person entrusted to ensure her safety.
The victim here is a seven-year-old girl, who was playing near her house with her brother. What will those who blame rape on the victim’s clothes, the hour of the day, her relationship with the accused, her state of inebriation, her being in a certain locality etc, say in this case?
Who is concerned about rapes
Strangely, reports of rape, of gruesome, chilling assaults have become so routine that even our horror is jaded. Does rape incidents no longer affect anyone else other than the victims, their families and the media? Why is it only the media which continues to talk about each incident, to carry every report, each more horrifying than the last?
Is our reaction to rape stories limited to reading headlines and shaking our heads in dazed insensitivity?
Why is no one in the government or the administration talking about it? Why is curbing rapes not a major poll issue?
The trauma of a rape victim does not end with the assault. An insensitive, uncooperative police and judicial system make sure that the odds in the quest for justice are stacked against her.
Why have no policy changes been brought about to ensure that police take congnisance of such cases, that the process of getting FIRs filed and the long legal battle is made easier for the victims?
After the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder in 2012, there had been a massive outcry, the whole country rose as one to condemn it, the atmosphere was charged – India, it seemed, was tethering on the verge of transformation.
The protest demonstrations and marches did lead to some changes – most notably, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which widened the definition of rape and sexual assault and criminalised offences such as voyeurism and stalking. It also led to more conversations on the rape and sexual assault, and reporting of such crimes went up.
However, four years later, India is no closer to being a safe place for women, and our reaction to rape stories is turning into one of stunned de-sensitivity, of frustration and helplessness.
When the Greater Noida mob thrashed the accused policemen, it was this helpless rage playing out. Who is responsible for the helplessness?
An amplified version of this rage is cries for stricter punishment, hanging all rapists, etc. In fact, Madhya Pradesh has approved a bill to award capital punishment to those convicted of raping girls aged 12 and below.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi Adityanath government had indeed spoken of making the state safe for women, but the method it adopted was deploying the rather controversial anti-Romeo squads, leading to fears of moral policing and harassment of young couples.
Punishments are but one way of dealing with a crime. What India needs at present is a massive change of mentality, of learning to accept women as human beings equal to men, with absolute, inviolable rights over their bodily integrity and sexual autonomy.
For this, the conversation needs to move beyond comments on social media posts. Politicians and civil society leaders must come together to initiate a dialogue on this, awareness programmes organised across the country.
The police force needs to be sensitised, and erring officers, who do not register rape complaints, humiliate victims or pressure them to withdraw cases, need to be punished. The judicial machinery should be a system of support for the victim, instead of another painful trial.
India’s rape statistics is a matter of national shame – other nations have been known to issue special instructions to their women to avoid sexual assault while in our country. Why has this not served as a rallying point for politicians and triggered a national-level action plan?
Rape is not merely a socio-cultural problem in India, it is a war against nearly half the country’s population. It is high time our political class recognises this as the national calamity that it is, and takes commensurate steps to tackle it.