It’s been four months since agitated citizens exploded in anger against sexual violence directed at women, since the Prime Minister said the Delhi gang rape victim’s death last December would not be in vain and the nation took a collective vow to repudiate the medieval social attitudes and patriarchal prejudices that give rise to and sanction violence against women. More than two months have gone by since the law relating to sexual violence was bolstered by a series of penal measures. Yet, India continues to be a country highly unsafe for women and girls. The latest incident in which a five-year-old was left fighting for survival after being raped and brutalised is yet another reminder that penal processes, greater security and harsher laws are not enough to protect the innocent. It may be possible to police late night bus or train services, and even our ill-lit streets, but what does one do about the predator lurking in the garb of a close relative or neighbour? Crime statistics say most rapists are known to their victims, and perhaps no defence is available against them except for families and communities to stop tolerating and making excuses for crimes committed by “their own.”
In the midst of indignant protests over the Delhi incident last December, there was talk of channelling the emotion and energy into a constructive course of action. There were calls for rational debate and a positive change in the attitude of society, of men, and, in particular, of the law enforcement machinery. However, what seems to remain unchanged is the callousness of sections of officialdom. The police station to which the parents of the five-year-old girl went to complain that she was missing made them wait for hours to register the complaint. And there was an unacceptable delay in acting on it. The police did not even search the building in which the family lived, and ultimately it was the girl’s cries in a ground floor room that attracted a neighbour’s attention. A policeman has been accused of offering Rs. 2,000 as hush money to the family so that they did not go to higher authorities or the media. Similarly, the police in Tenali in Andhra Pradesh was accused of doing nothing when a woman was pushed under the wheels of a truck after she took on a group of men harassing her daughter. In Kancheepuram recently, a police officer said that a woman, who had confronted some men teasing a child, “should have ignored them and walked past quietly.” He would have us believe that she was responsible for the eventual killing of her father by those men. No law will achieve its purpose unless its enforcers shed their insensitivity and callousness towards the victims of sexual crime.