Respect for women has to be ingrained at home and not in jail. The victim cannot be further punished because she broke the conspiracy of silence that her assaulter, an Indian man, has taken for granted.

Instead of being in school, two children, a girl of four and a five-year old, are in hospital, one battling for her life and the other recovering, going by medical bulletins. In a span of four months, Delhi is overrun by protests inviting the usual platitudes. Along with speedy punishment for crimes against women, platitudes on women’s safety must be made a criminal offence, one is so weary of hearing them.

Protests were also held in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh. where the four-year old was raped by a 35-year old man known to her family. Arun Khote of Peoples Media Advocacy and Resource Centre (PMARC) points out that in April alone at least eight cases of rapes on Dalit girls, many of them minors, were reported from the rest of the country.

In one case in Uttar Pradesh, the ten year old girl who went to file a complaint with her mother was put in the lockup for inexplicable reasons. Only two of the cases involved women above the age of fifteen. Mr. Khote points out that while the Delhi case must be investigated, the other cases too deserve attention. Why is it only cases in the capital get such extraordinary attention is the question he is asking.

For years, the media has been rather Delhi centric and protests there are easier to cover than say something happening in smaller towns. Seoni had a candle light march and protests but I doubt if these came on national television channels. There was an impression created that after the huge outpouring on the streets in December last year, the rapes would stop. Nothing could be more foolish to expect.

For too long the capital has had a notorious reputation and every woman on the street in Delhi or in the bus has a reason to fear. There is a prevailing atmosphere of insecurity and the gang rape of a young woman in a bus had sent shock waves of terror, confirming everyone’s worst fears. As a friend pointed out, stepping into a bus assumed a different connotation for many women. For children who are raped, in most cases, by people they know and this is borne out by statistics as well, the implications of the assault are equally if not more brutal.

Many of them find it difficult to articulate or even understand what has happened to them and the shock has far reaching consequences as for all those who are sexually assaulted by men.

Instead of stigmatizing the perpetrator, we make the survivors of the assault feel shameful and even make them regret they dared speak up. And the latest example of this is jailing the complainant in UP. Over 66 years after we won freedom from the British, while we copied their legal system, we didn’t ensure it worked with any efficiency. While the judiciary ambles on and the police wallow in inefficiency, precious lives are being destroyed.

The rapists are one up on this languid system; they know they can get away, despite the occasional harsh sentence that is handed out. While it is great that a fast track court is hearing the case of the Delhi gang rape, such speed is lacking in other parts of the country. Remember, this is a country where justice has to be fast tracked, otherwise it will meander at the speed of a three-toed sloth.

Many of the rapes involve minors and the culprits are usually known – relatives and even fathers or uncles in some cases. Not all cases are reported for the fear of speaking out and the stigma it involves. Every woman who goes to the police station, if she survives the assault, that is, is putting her life on the line and dreads the treatment that will follow – not only by the police but also later in the courts.

Last year, in Mumbai, a woman spent over 24 hours in a police station waiting to file a complaint of rape. She was fasting during Ramzan and didn’t get food. She spent the night in the changing room of the women constables at the police station before being escorted for a medical examination the next day. The doctors there said that since she was already examined once in a private hospital, there was no need to repeat it.

She had to wait for four days to get a copy of the first information report (FIR). The case has been chargesheeted but the question remains as to how she will depose in court. After the Delhi gang rape, two minors had to spend the entire day and night at the police station for their medical examination which was conducted at 2.30 am in Mumbai again. They were kept waiting for many hours after that as well. Social activists point out that the number of people who do not want to report rape is rising, especially in the case of minors.

The larger question is that of tackling patriarchy and the attitude that women, even children, are to be violated with impunity. The way girls are treated at home, so different from boys, the lack of attention to their needs, the neglect and discrimination they face, if they are born at all, is something that society as a whole needs to address. Institutional bias against women and the presumption that she must be at fault somewhere and the impunity assaulters enjoy have to end.

The protests should centre on these issues which were raised in 1984 by the autonomous women’s groups after the Mathura rape case, which also involved a 14- year- old girl from Chandrapur. The political class for the most part seems content with making meaningless noises. Tribal societies rarely report such crimes, but we consider them barbaric and we want to mainstream them.

If the Delhi protests of last time showed anything, it was that people had had enough, and no one was going to keep silent anymore. That is critical, the assaulter knows that he can inflict so much fear and terror and is confident of the victim’s silence, especially that of children, who sometimes take days to speak up, if at all. That silence has been broken in Delhi and it needs to be forcefully rung out in other places as well. Life must be made hell for perpetrators of rape, they cannot just slink away into oblivion.

Punishment for such crimes must act as a deterrent but that alone will not be enough. Equality and respect has to come from within us, no law can enforce that. Women are not objects to be killed or raped at will. Respect for women has to be ingrained at home and not in jail. And the victim cannot be further punished because she broke the conspiracy of silence that her assaulter has taken for granted.