End culture of impunity

Dalit Nirbhaya

By Poonam I Kaushish

India is in conflict with its betis. If recalling the horrors of Nirbhaya, Kathua, Unnao, Muzzafarnagar, Telangana etc weren’t gut wrenching, the latest tale of savagery in UP’s Hathras district 14 September where a 19 year old Dalit teen was gang raped by four upper caste men, stripped and strangulated, her spinal cord damaged paralyzing her and tongue cut resulting in death 29 September, has horrified and outraged the nation again.

Worse, the police which did not register an FIR in time or take the victim to the hospital nor insured proper evidence gathering and forensic investigation, arrested the perpetrators only 9 days later on 23 September for unfathomable reasons. The Aligarh hospital where she was first treated carried out forensic investigation only 11 days later, followed by another one in Delhi on 28 September by which time rape was hard to confirm and she died the next day.

Adding insult to injury, the police post haste locked up her sobbing family, denied them their daughter’s body to perform the last rites and without adhering to basic human and legal right to do so, boorishly carried her body to a wilderness and burnt her in the stealth of night in her village.

Shockingly, the State machinery that was lackadaisical in preventing the rape or taking immediate cognizance of her complaint suddenly turned pro-active in managing the aftermath. The Administration’s spin factories continue to give a thumbs up to an alternate narrative that she was beaten not raped. No matter the 19 year-old recorded a statement to the police to the contrary.

The brutality of the crime, shameless police abdication in life and death enabled by many injustices and inequalities have shaken and shamed us. More. With rank incompetence and apathy to answer for, the police took cover under threat to public order by imposing Section 144 and disallowed entry of Opposition leaders and media to the village.

Besides, that the teenager was an “untouchable” belonging to the Valmiki community and her attackers upper caste has opened old wounds in casteist India where these distinctions take precedence above all else. Rubbishing, the Constitution fundamentals of equality before the law regardless of gender and social status and equal protection of the law in life and death.

Raising a moot point: We might have excellent criminal laws, but what use are these when they cannot ensure a quick, time-bound trial or punishment? Why does brutality have to be the trigger point for the public to say enough is enough, kill the culprits?

Alas, in the Hathras case no one has come out smelling of roses. Add to this, the failure and inability of our grievance redressal mechanism and justice delivery system, for which our police, judiciary and lawmakers must share blame has a chilling effect on the aam aadmi. Specially,  as times out of number the police force across States have crossed red lines wherein extra-judicial killings are celebrated as justice and no police accountability, rape convictions remain low, despite anti-rape laws having been made stringent after the Nirbhaya case alongside the Supreme Court expressing anguish.

Clearly, only when the State reinforces its commitment to act impartially and with fairness can respect for the law deter the powerful from its breach. Time now, for the Central and State Governments to promptly review security of women and seek accountability from their police force.

Law keepers unless held accountable to law will continue to remain a weapon in the hands of the powerful Bahubalis. The police must document rapes and the judiciary to fast-track cases instead of lingering them for years. Happily the Allahabad High Court has taken cognizance and should expeditiously bring the culprits to book.

Today again there is a cry to hang the rapists or kill them like in Telengana. UP has formed an SIT. It remains to be seen how promptly, objectively they ensure fair justice is meted and if the Court’s indignation and mounting public anger help in making a dent in the culture of impunity. Given that lines between those responsible for upholding the law and those who break it are getting dangerously blurred.

That the teen’s killing is like water off a ducks back becomes obvious when we see that barely had her pyre turned cold, that another 22-year-old woman died after being gang-raped in Balrampur, ditto the fate of three minor girls in Lakhimpur Kheri and a nine-year-old girl in Kanpur and two eight-year-old girls in Gautam Buddh Nagar and  Firozabad.

Appallingly, sexual abuse remains widespread despite tightening of rape laws whereby four rapes happen every minute in India. Daily newspapers scream headlines of girls raped, women routinely stalked, assaulted and killed, harassed by police or bullied into silence by family. And the country goes into collective maatam.

According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, 39,000 sexual assaults occur every year, five rapes occur every minute and one woman is killed every hour. In a UN survey India ranked 85 out of 121 countries unsafe for women. Shockingly, 6.26 rapes take place for every 10,000 women.

UP ignominiously holds the record of the most cases of crimes against women in the country for two consecutive years — 59,853 last year and 59,445 in 2018 according to the NCRB’s latest report.  It ranked second in rapes (3,065) behind Rajasthan (5,997).  It also ranked third in rape-murder cases. Out of 278 such cases in the country, 34 were committed in the State.

Undoubtedly, toxic masculinity tells men it is okay even commendable to seize women who they can’t otherwise have. Topped, by our regressive society which ensures that if they cross limits there would find sympathisers and defenders who will pin the blame on the woman.

Plainly, in a society heavily loaded in favour of men, 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. Comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level. Perhaps it has something to do with our patriarchal lineage and misogynistic culture.

Further, implementation of laws meant to protect women, post Nirbhaya are patchy. In 2016 over 35,000 rape cases were reported but only 7,000 were convicted. Tragically, women are on their own vis-a-vis their safety. There is no law against sexual assault or harassment and only vaginal penetration counts as rape. Horrifyingly, one Rajasthan hospital continues the “two-finger” test (doctors insert fingers into the vagina) to determine if a woman has been raped, despite the practice being banned in 2013. Sic.

Those who molest a woman are only booked for “insulting or outraging a woman’s modesty” or “intruding upon her privacy”. The maximum punishment is a year’s imprisonment, a fine or both. Besides, though a 2015 law mandates victims be paid Rs three lakhs as compensation just three of 50 rape survivors have got it.

By completely ignoring the systemic realities including police apathy towards rape survivors, poor investigation, a judgmental criminal justice system which goes for harsher punishments as a solution, our outrage seems superficial. Suggestive of us shying away from the responsibility as a society for sexual violence against women.

In an environ where incidents of moral turpitude pervades across the country, we need to seriously ponder for how long will women continue to be playthings at the hands of  voyeuristic animals in the garb of men? Undeniably, no civilized society can tolerate rape brutalization in silence.

Will the aam aadmi continue to rot at the hands of the policewala goonda whose slogan of being “with you, for you” is a chimera! A time to ponder and introspect — Balatkar  akhir kab tak? —— INFA