At exactly the same time five men were sexually assaulting a 22-year-old photojournalist in the abandoned 10-acre Shakti Mills Compound in Mahalaxmi, a six-year-old girl from a lower middle-class Tardeo locality went to meet her father, a grocer.
The shop was hardly a few metres from the girl’s house. On the way, an unidentified person saw the girl, picked her up under the pretext of offering a bar of chocolate, took her to a secluded spot, stripped her, stopped short of raping her in the legal sense, but molested her for 30 minutes by touching her genitals and other parts of the body, and then dropped her to the same spot where he picked her up.
Sobbing, the girl described the pain to her parents. They rushed her to BYL Nair Hospital for a medical checkup, where their worst fears were confirmed. The perpetrator is absconding, while the family is still in shock.
In Mumbai, sexual assaults on women are so common that, sadly, unless the event is extraordinary -- like the gang-rape of a photojournalist inside an abandoned mill -- neither the police nor the media and nor the society as a whole takes notice. This is a real tragedy.
Last year, Mumbai Police registered only 200 cases of rape, and 298 cases of what the Indian Penal Code calls ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’. For a city with a population of close to 1.6 crore, the figure is not only unrealistic, it is heartbreaking. It points to the fear women have about India’s criminal justice system; in fact the sheer act of entering a police station is traumatic as policemen want to keep crime reporting low to show their jurisdiction as the one with minimum crime.
Rapists, therefore, get away on two counts -- they know their victims would most likely not report it, and second, the police will not take the victim seriously. And even if they do, they won’t be serious about catching the perpetrator.
Rape is thus not only a socio-psychological problem; it is a law and order issue that needs to be tackled swiftly. Governments win over their constituents by not only ensuring governance, but also, by meting out quick justice, be seen as an efficient government that provides security to each and every citizen. In all these departments, the law and order machinery has proved a dismal failure.
Admittedly, the world over, rape is the most under-reported crime (in Canada, for instance, a nationwide survey concluded that only six per cent of rapes are reported to the police). In India, not only is there under-reporting of rape by a large percentage, it is also among the least convicted crimes. As per a report by Praja, a governance NGO, India’s conviction rate for crimes against women is three per cent.
Even fast-track courts are not fast-track. The much-publicised trial in the Delhi gang-rape of Dec 2012 – which united the country over crimes against women and shamed the country internationally -- is still not concluded, nine months after the incident.
It is not surprising therefore, that between 1990 and 2008, the number of rapes has more than doubled. With the confidence that he won’t be convicted, a perpetrator commits the crime with impunity.
There is no magic pill to end rape. There cannot be. Yet, we know where the problems lie -- a society that promotes and practices misogyny; a law enforcement system that thrives on corruption and that incentivises artificially low crime rates; and a judicial system that victimises the victim rather than shame and punish the rapist. The real challenge is to build society that looks at women as equal citizens; not above men or below them, but just equal. The real challenge is to make change inside our homes. The real challenge is to promote police and judicial reforms to ensure speedy investigation and justice. The real challenge is to give confidence to a citizen to enter a police station and file a First Information Report.
But that’s the problem: these are challenges and we want to take the easy way out. We will outrage, send tweets, light candles, join a protest rally, create online petitions, and then promptly forget about it till the next shocking rape. We did that, didn’t we, for nine months after the Delhi gang-rape?
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