Just what is this awful sickness that lies within us? What malodorous disease could lead a random mob of men to molest a minor schoolgirl, stripping her and beating her by turns in the middle of a busy downtown street, as if they were engaged in some casual sport? Surely, this appalling crime — which took place barely a kilometre from Assam’s State secretariat and in full view of many — is more than just a reflection on a criminal mob of some 20 or more young men and the deteriorating law and order situation in Guwahati. Surely, it should hold up a mirror to all of us and lead us to ask what has gone so horribly wrong in our society. The sheer savagery of the gang molestation, the video of which went viral on the Internet, has fuelled outrage across the country even as it has triggered a sense of national shame. The Assam police, which took a full 30 minutes to arrive at the crime scene, should lose no time in arresting all those involved in the bestiality, many of who have been already identified because of the video. It is debatable whether or not the onlookers who passively watched the mortification of the schoolgirl are legally culpable. But their moral complicity in the crime is beyond question.
We live in a time when crimes against women — which climbed over 2.25 lakh in 2011 according to the National Crime Records Bureau — are growing alarmingly. The data also clearly reveals that over the last couple of decades, the (reported) incidents of rape have increased at a far steeper rate than other serious crimes such as murder and theft. Even so, we assiduously cultivate the patriarchal lie that women are fundamentally responsible for many of the crimes against them. The panchayat in Uttar Pradesh’s Bagpat region which recently issued a diktat against unescorted women visiting the marketplace, entering into love marriages or even carrying mobile phones, was guided by the same warped mindset. The stated objective was to protect women from being teased and harassed by men. But rather than take steps to punish those responsible for such harassment, the panchayat chose illegitimately to restrict the freedom of women and infringe on their rights. Sadly, it is not uncommon to find police officers and politicians subscribing to such a regressive belief system. Justice is rarely done in the face of such attitudes. This is why organisations such as the National Commission of Women, which is sending a team to Guwahati, must track the molestation case closely and work towards seeing that the guilty are severely punished.