The recent rape and hanging of two teenage girls in an Uttar Pradesh village has now come to draw world attention with the UN secretary general’s condemnation of it. That it reflects poorly on India as a whole is something to ponder about. While UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is not wrong in pointing out that the menace is not confined to his state but is equally virulent in some others, the recent spate of its incidence in UP highlights the failure of the state machinery to prevent crimes against women. According to recent media reports, a woman who was gangraped by four men during the Muzaffarnagar riots not only continues to fight for justice eight months later but is facing threats and pressure to withdraw her complaint—from policemen, no less.
It is true that similar administrative failures have been detected in other parts and the root cause of the law enforcement agencies to act against perpetrators of such crimes is the failure of the organs of the state—legislature, judiciary and executive—to break the stranglehold of obscurantist patriarchal mindset. Such an attitude is encouraged by inappropriate comments typified by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “boys will be boys” approach to dilute implementation of anti-rape laws. Mulayam is not alone in harbouring such a mindset. Quite a few state police chiefs and politicians in positions of power have aired similar views, some even imposing a dress code on young girls.
Undoubtedly, harsher laws and their effective implementation alone will not curb such crimes and a multi-pronged strategy is required. That a majority of people in India are forced to defecate in the open makes especially women and girls vulnerable. Effective measures to empower women in all sectors of the economy and social life are required. But law and its enforcement is the most potent weapon in the armoury of the government. The officials and agencies that fail to discharge their duty to protect women should be punished.