By Poonam I Kaushish
India is at war with its girls and women. As tales of savagery and nightmarish drugging, beating and rape of young girls unfolds, horrifying a nation. Of shelter homes meant to rehabilitate girls and impart a life of dignity turn into brothels for depraved men. The terrifying saga of Bihar’s Muzaffarpur where more than 30 girls, the youngest a seven-year-old speech-impaired child were tortured, intoxicated and sexual assaulted over four years by politically connected owner Brajesh Thakur nicknamed ‘Hunterwale Uncle’ and his cronies.
Even as Muzaffarpur’s horror tales continue to make headlines, another sordid saga of abuse of inmates in another shelter home in UP’s Deoria district unfolded after a 10-year-old escaped from the home being run without a licence for more than a year to a police station where she recited tales of the ‘Horror Home’. “Girls used to be taken away in ‘white, black and red’ cars at night and brought back early morning…they were too traumatised to speak and spent the day crying.”
More shocking, the Deoria shelter home was being run illegally by an NGO as the UP Government’s Women and Child Welfare Department had suspended its licence in July 2017, after the CBI submitted a report alleging financial irregularity against it. So far 24 girls have been rescued with 18 still missing.
True Muzaffarpur and Deoria’s owners Brajesh Thakur and Girija Tripathi have been arrested. But does that absolve them of their horrendous crime? What punishment will be meted to them? Will the ‘law take its own course’ by them being released on bail and the case dragging on for at least 20 years?
Typically, the Bihar State Government reaction-action is getting the Child and Women Affairs Minister to resign, suspend six babus of the State Child Protection unit while UP’s Sarkar has transferred the Deoria District Magistrate in the wake of Opposition’s demand for stringent actions. Duty discharged, both have now washed its hands off the issue. Completely disregarding that all have collectively miserably failed time and again in making our cities and environment safe for women and protecting them.
Our netagan close their eyes because they would rather see intricacies of blaring fabrications than ugly cold facts, thereby collectively selling their souls for the magnificence of propaganda. Sadly, such is the state of affairs we are immune to women being snatched off the streets, abused and gang raped in moving cars, fields, homes etc.
Importantly, both seemed to have opened up a can of worms whereby during raids in other UP shelter homes in Pratapgarh, 26 women were found missing out of 32 inmates, in Ashtabhuja Nagar only one out of 17 girls, in Achalpur of 15 inmates 12 women were missing, Pilibhit 23 inmates out of the 30 missing and in Hardoi 19 girls missing.
Scandalously, the agency assigned by the Supreme Court for pan-India mapping and audit of children’s homes by December 2017 was denied access to child care institutions in nine States, including Bihar, UP, Odisha, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Himachal and Bangla. The reason? We want to carry out our own audits. Sic. Worse, 1,339 homes are yet to register.
An “extremely disturbed” Supreme Court remarked, “Rapes are happening right, left and centre. Is this the way we are treating our girls? It is horrible.” Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. Five rapes occur every minute across the country, molestation every 6 minutes; kidnapping every 43 minutes; eve-teasing every 51 minutes; criminal offense against women every 7 minutes. A yovan raj. And we call ourselves a civilized society!
To soothe frayed tempers the Modi Government passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 whereby the minimum punishment for rape has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of 7 years to 10 years, extendable to life imprisonment. In case of rape of an under 16 year girl minimum punishment is 20 years, extendable to imprisonment for rest of life and death penalty for a girl under 12.
Sadly, sexual abuse remains widespread despite tightening of rape laws. According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, nearly 39,000 sexual assaults occur in the country every year, in 2016 the rape of minor girls increased by 82% compared with 2015 and 42% of girls have been sexually abused. In 40% of the rape cases, the victims were under 18.
Chillingly, across all rape cases, 95% of rapists were not strangers but family, friends and neighbours. One woman is killed every hour for not bringing enough dowry, over 50% Indian men believe that sometimes women deserve a beating. So much for the Government’s Beti Bachao slogan. Sic.
The tragedy is that oppression of girls has been recast as a virtue sanctified by loving families, perfumed by our definitions of goodness. And the family remains impenetrable and untouchable. Girls are trained in silence, they are told to be quiet, dheere bolo, have no opinions, no arguments, no conflicts. Silent women who are easy to ignore, overrule, and violate without repercussions. Impunity flourishes. It serves a culture of violence to create pleasers.
Alas, as our polity brags about Mera Desh Mahan and Brand India women and young girls live in an increasingly unsafe environment wherein they are viewed as sex objects and mince-meat for male lust camouflaged as human animals. Not a few complain that to rise professionally they need a ‘godfather’ who can make or break them. Comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level.
Such is the state of affairs we are immune to women being snatched off the streets and gang raped in moving cars, unless it is a high profile one. In a survey conducted by a London firm of 150 safe cities, New Delhi is rated as the rape Capital and 139 while Mumbai is ranked at 126 the bottom of the heap.
Where does one go from here? Clearly our leaders need to pay heed and seriously address that it not stopped, atrocities against women will get worse. For starters, policing laws need strengthening which would deter men to think thousand times before they commit a crime.
In a milieu which has systematically obliterated morality and ethics where incidents of moral turpitude pervade across the country and where our conscience marches past us in perfect synchrony and Indian women lick yesterday’s wounds and wait for tomorrow’s hurt, the time has come to seriously ponder: For how long will women continue to be playthings at the hands of the voyeuristic animals in the garb of men?
Underscoring the importance of voicing out sexual harassment issues, women who have been sexually harassed need to speak up as it will make more people aware and come out in support thereby taking action collectively. If they continue to suffer in silence, they would only encourage men to continue their crime. Alongside, the right groundwork must be laid for women to work in a safe and secure work environment and an orientation session for men and women on what constitutes sexual harassment.
Tough times call for tough action. A revolutionary change is needed. Merely mouthing platitudes will no longer work. Time to remember that democracy is not a harlot to be picked up in the street by a man. Will we break new ground and unshackle women or live in rape country where women are unsafe? —- INFA