Gender justice

Nearly seven years after the Nirbhaya tragedy shocked India and the world at large, a 19-year-old, who was allegedly raped in 2017 by a local MLA in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, is battling for her life. Hooked to a ventilator, the girl’s latest trauma began on Sunday. She was travelling by car with two aunts and a lawyer from Unnao to Rae Bareli when a truck with a “blackened number plate” rammed into the vehicle. Whether it is an accident or not is now a subject matter of official investigation, but India has had a history of rogue trucks silencing those questioning the system. Since 2017, it’s been a long, difficult road to justice for the family. Two years ago, the girl had gone to Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a four-time BJP legislator from Bangermau, for a job. The teenager accused him of sexually assaulting her, but the family’s cry for help went unheard till April 2018, when Sengar was arrested, days after the girl threatened to immolate herself outside Uttar Pradesh (U.P.)Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence in Lucknow. In the meantime, her father was arrested in an arms case and died in police custody. Helpless in the face of such brazen show of power, the family wrote to the Chief Justice of India on July 12, alleging grave danger from the accused. Ranjan Gogoi got to know of the letter only on July 30 and expressed displeasure about the delay.

The family did not get any relief from State government agencies, which appear to have been complicit in the cover-up, with the MLA belonging to the ruling party. The BJP has come under pressure from the Opposition to expel Sengar. In the Unnao case, muscle, money power and the right political alignment weighed heavily against the girl. As for crimes against women, U.P. has a high rate, not least because many are reported, unlike in some other States. According to National Crime Records Bureau figures, released in 2016 – the last time data were uploaded – of the 38,947 cases of rape reported, the second highest was from U.P. (4,816). As for all crimes against women, Uttar Pradesh reported 14.5% (49,262 out of 3,38,954 cases) of the total. The Supreme Court has ruled that five cases relating to the issue will be transferred from U.P. to Delhi, and ordered the State government to pay a Rs. 25 lakh compensation to the family. This may bring some relief, even though justice has been inordinately delayed. Despite the increased focus on women’s rights, nothing changes on the ground. Till such crimes continue with impunity and patriarchal mindsets don’t change, as a diverse and plural society, India would have failed the girl, and every woman.

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