India was ranked the most dangerous country in the world for women in 2018 by the Thompson Reuters Foundation poll.
If events over the last few weeks are anything to go by, India has become a killer country for the girl child – who is being raped and murdered across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, often over petty family disputes.
Take the case of the 12-year-old girl who, on June 7, was dragged out of her home in Kushinagar district in the Gorakhpur constituency by six men and allegedly raped. The suspects reportedly had an altercation with the girl’s family over the construction of a drain. The two main accused are on the run while the girl is undergoing treatment at a local hospital.
The following day, on June 8, a ten-year-old girl was found dead at a cremation ground in Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh. Her family has alleged that she had been raped before being murdered.
In Jalaun district, adjacent to Kanpur, the naked body of a seven-year-old girl was found on June 9, fuelling suspicion that she too had been raped before being murdered. Here again, the father of the girl told the police that his daughter’s killing was the handiwork of his neighbours with whom he had had long standing differences.
On Saturday, June 8, the abduction, rape and murder by strangulation of a ten-year-old girl living in a Bhopal slum created shock waves. Her body was found in a sewer and was apparently dumped there by a labourer who had received assistance from the girl’s father.
In another case in Madhya Pradesh, a four-year-old girl in a village in Jabalpur was allegedly sexually assaulted by a 16-year-old boy. This happened on June 9.
Pragya Thakur, the BJP MP from Bhopal, visited the victim’s home to extend her sympathies. As a representative of Bhopal in the Lok Sabha, Thakur would be well served to remember that Madhya Pradesh tops the graph for crimes against women. The National Crime Records Bureau statistics highlight that MP records the highest number of rape cases in the country and accounted for 4,882 rape cases in 2016. From these, 2,479 cases were rapes of minor girls.
The case of the three-year old girl in Tappal in Aligarh who was murdered and left in a garbage dump is also continuing to make headlines. She went missing on May 30 and her body was found on June 2. The post mortem examination confirmed death due to strangulation. The police have so far ruled out any sign of sexual assault, but the possibility is still under investigation. Again, this young child paid the price for a financial altercation between her family members and the accused over a loan of Rs 10,000.
An attempt is being made to communalise this murder: Hundreds of young men reached the Tappal border on Sunday and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi was stopped from visiting Aligarh.
UP has witnessed a 400% rise in cases of child rape in 2016, according to NCRB data, which shows that while 20,000 children were raped in 2016, the figure stood at 10,934 in 2015. Many of these rapes have ended in the murder of the child victim.
While India recorded an increase of 65% in rape cases from 2010 (22,172) to 2014 (36,735), Uttar Pradesh recorded an increase of 121% from 2010 (1,563) to 2014 (3,467), according to the NCRB data. Rapes by juvenile offenders increased from 1,688 in 2015 to 1,903 last year – almost a 13% jump.
The question that begs to be asked here is why the ‘stricter laws’ to curb sexual violence against women are not working.
The new rape laws, issued in 2013, had mandated shorter trials and stricter punishment for rapists.
When asked about why so many rape cases are resulting in the murder of the victim, Dr Rajesh Kumar, head of the Society of Promotion of Youth and Masses, which works with juvenile delinquents and murderers in Tihar Jail, said: “When the rape law was being amended in 2013, I had pointed out the pitfalls of tightening the law. If the victim survives, she will be a witness. The rapist therefore finds it more convenient to eliminate the witness. For many of those who commit these crimes, there is little difference between living on the streets or spending time in a jail. ”
Kumar also believes the time has come to ban access to child pornography. “The West has strict laws against access to child pornography. In Germany, you get a life sentence if you are caught viewing child pornography. The law needs to act on this front,” said Kumar.
Rebecca John, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court, feels that these crimes point to a larger picture.
“The numbers of rapes are so large that we need to look beyond the immediate causes and go into deep rooted issues. There are high levels of unemployment, a huge amount of economic distress combined with the fact that India has the highest levels of mental health problems in the world. What has the state’s response been to these problems? Deafening silence. Increasing levels of punishment is not the answer,” John said.
“Our society is imploding as happened to Sri Lanka earlier. Competitive democratic politics has created these divisions and this is leading to the destruction of the normative framework of our society. Unfortunately, we have a police force that collaborates with the majority community as they have been doing from 1947,” said political psychologist and social theorist Dr Ashish Nandy.
But Jaipur-based woman activist Dr Renuka Pamecha believes there are other undercurrents which must be addressed. “During the 1970s, we approached the state government to set up Mahila Salaah Aur Suraksha Kendras in police stations where aggrieved women could receive immediate assistance.”
“Imagine our horror when Vijaya Raje Scindia slashed the funding for this scheme, as she did for many other women-oriented initiatives. She showed no sensitivity towards their sufferings,” said Pamecha.
Similarly in Bhopal, local activists point out, while former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had launched a slew of pro-women schemes in his first term as chief minister, in his third term, the funding for pro-women schemes was substantially slashed.
Communalisation of rape
Few cases captured the imagination of the country as the Kathua rape case did where an eight-year-old girl was brutally gangraped and murdered in Kashmir. A special court on Monday convicted six of the seven accused; three have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Once again, the case was communalised so much that the Hindu Ekta Manch organised rallies in support of the accused. The extent of pressure being exerted on lawyers and the victims family can be gauged from the fact that the trial had to be shifted to another state.
Attempts to communalise rape cases must be come to an end. More so, the government and civil society need to work towards finding community supportive solutions and better policing as two important steps to end this vortex of violence against our daughters.
Rashme Sehgal is an author and a freelance journalist based in Delhi.