We seldom enforce laws, and that’s why rape victims are still victimised
From every nook of India these days, we hear one question: Will anything come out of all this? It is actually more than a question. It is a cry from the heart. An anguished people, filled with anger and disgust and helplessness over the Delhi rape horror, are asking whether their collective sobbing will bear any fruit. Never since 1947 has a crime aroused such passions as this one. But where are the answers?
By now we know that the luckless girl in Delhi was not merely gangraped. She was subjected to sadistic torture with iron rods. In a normal society, such beastliness would have led quickly to the leaders of the land identifying themselves with the people, participating in their grief and reassuring them. We obviously do not qualify as a normal society. How else can we explain the disconnect between the people and the politicians? How else can ministers cease to be fathers and husbands just because they are ministers?
The home minister, in particular, seemed keen to show his incompetence. (Who cares for competence when loyalty alone is the deciding factor?) When his attention was drawn to the government not rising to the defence of the people when needed, Shinde said: “Tomorrow, if hundred adivasis are killed in Chhattisgarh or Gadchiroli, can the government go there?” What a pathetic man.
No wonder, rape victims continue to be victimised by those who should be protecting them. In Imphal last week, an 18-year-old victim was remanded to police custody for five days to help the police record her statement. The Criminal Procedure Code specifies not only that a rape victim should not be remanded to custody but also that she should not even be summoned to the police station. The police officer who asked for her remand and the judicial magistrate who allowed it could not have been unaware of the law. Yet why did they choose to break it? Because they share the Shinde Syndrome of irresponsibility.
In fact, the days following the Delhi gangrape saw a series of rapes in the country, from Punjab to Puducherry, from Bengal to Bangalore. In Karnataka’s Bidar district, a five-year-old girl was raped by two men. No one was arrested. In Patiala, a girl killed herself unable to stand post-rape harassment by the police. In Bangalore, a raped girl’s family was targetted instead of being protected. The community elders asked the father to marry her off to the rapist who already had a wife. On the father’s refusal, the community began ostracising the family. The father also said the police manipulated the girl’s statement to help the rapist.
There is a culture of rape and sadism that covers India. The ancient tradition of looking upon women as cattle to be used at will is strengthened by the modern tradition of the state serving the interests of the bribing class. Where can our women, from 5-year-olds to 70-year-olds, turn for succour?
Some worthy steps have of course been taken. The most hopeful of these is the appointment of Justice J S Verma to formulate new legal frameworks to tackle this shame of a problem. Scholarship and independence of spirit have combined to give Justice Verma unmatched credibility. He is bound to come up with proposals of merit. The first fast-track court to try cases of sexual offences has opened and four more are on the way. At the practical level, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was the first to come up with a 13-point plan of action with emphasis on speedier trials and more severe punishments.
Delhi is notorious for not implementing plans. In the last 40 years, at least six high-powered commissions presented reports on police reforms. Not one has been implemented to date. Seven years ago, the Supreme Court ordered that a clutch of National Police Commission recommendations be implemented. Nothing has been done in practice. This is what lends poignancy to the question whether the current outrage against violent rape will eventually lead to meaningful action. If it doesn’t, the present breed of home ministers, prime ministers and their dynastic sovereigns will have to start counting their days.