Demand for justice for rape victims gets shriller in India
By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi: India is witnessing an unprecedented outpouring of anger and anguish over increasing attacks on women in the country and silence of its rulers.
Thousands of people on April 15 gathered on the Parliament Street in New Delhi to demand justice for the victims of rape cases. Similar candlelight processions and demonstrations were held in various cities of the country.
“How long are we going to be silent? Enough is enough,” asserts Sister Lucy Kurien, who directs Maher (My mother’s home), a string of homes that cater to destitute women in various parts of India, reacting to the recent rape cases in the country.
The member of the Holy Cross of Chavanod says her center “stands strongly” against the rape cases in Unnao and Kathua. Her 20-year-old center currently shelters five girls who became pregnant after rape. “Over the years Maher has sheltered more than 600 girls who were raped and pregnant,” she says in a Whatsapp message to her friends.
“Let us not wait for more incidents to take place,” asserts the nun, who was the only Catholic among 20 women that the Indian government honored with the Nari Shakti Puraska, a women’s empowerment award, on March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day, for outstanding contribution to society.
She also urges people to join a rally her center plans on April 16 at Koregaon in Pune district of Maharashtra state, against the recent atrocities on women.
In Mumbai, Vibhuti Patel, Professor at SNDT Women’s University and a member of women’s rights movement, too wants speedy justice for the minor gang-rape victims of Kathua and Unnao and the arrest of “all culprits of both the tragedies.”
She was referring to Asifa, an 8-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Kashmir’s Kathua district. The girl had gone missing in January while grazing horses in Rassana forest. A week later, her body was recovered with head smashed. Investigations revealed she was held captive inside a temple and was sedated before being repeatedly raped and murdered.
A court in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on April 14 sent a legislator to a seven-day judicial custody for allegedly raping a 17-year-old girl in Unnao district in the northern Indian state. Earlier, the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested the legislator’s brother, Atul Singh Sengar, and four others for allegedly thrashing the victim’s father, who died later.
Patel wants the Bar Council of India to take “harsh disciplinary action” against lawyers of Kathua Bar for obstructing police from filing charges against the alleged killers of Asifa. They also held rallies in support of the alleged rapists.
Patel, chairperson of the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, School of Development Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, urged the government to suspend police personnel who terrorized, tortured, humiliated, detained the father of the Unnao gang rape victim in the police station.
“In such difficult times, the nationwide mass movement against sexual violence and communalism politics is the only ray of hope. Protection should be provided to the woman lawyer, Dipika Singh Rajawat who is fighting the case on behalf of the Kathua gang-rape victim. She is facing threats from none other than the Bar Council lawyers of Srinagar,” she said.
Patel also pleaded the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and the Supreme Court of India to order steps to prevent further tampering of evidence. “We demand that government should stop all non-secular divisive forces from polarizing, communalizing and be obstructing the issue and allow justice to take its fair action,” she added.
Meanwhile 50 retired civil servants have written to Prime Minister Modi expressing shame, rage and anguish over the situation in India.
“The unspeakable horror of the Kathua and the Unnao incidents shows that the government has failed in performing the most basic of the responsibilities given to it by the people,” says their appeal to the premier.
They decried giving sustenance to the brutality of one human being against another in the name of Hindus and said such developments indicated that “we have failed as human beings.”
“Prime Minister, we write to you not just to express our collective sense of shame and not just to give voice to our anguish or lament and mourn the death of our civilizational values – but to express our rage. Rage over the agenda of division and hate your party and its innumerable, often untraceable offshoots that spring up from time to time, have insidiously introduced into the grammar of our politics, our social and cultural life and even our daily discourse. It is that which provides the social sanction and legitimacy for the incidents in Kathua and Unnao.”
Their April 15 letter noted that in Kathua, the “culture of majoritarian belligerence and aggression promoted by the Sangh Parivar” had “emboldened rabid communal elements to pursue their perverse agenda. They knew that their behavior would be endorsed by the politically powerful and those who have made their careers by polarizing Hindus and Muslims across a sectarian divide.”
The former civil servants also observed “reprehensible” abuse of power in the Unnao case. “It is the response of the State Government in hounding the victim of rape and her family instead of the alleged perpetrator that shows how perverted governance practices have become.”
The government acted in the case only after it was compelled by the state High Court. It shows the government’s “hypocrisy and the half-heartedness of its intent.”
The civil servants drew the prime minister’s attention to the fact his party is in power in both states where the crimes occurred. “Given your supremacy within the party and the centralized control you and your Party President exercise, you more than anyone else have to be held responsible for this terrifying state of affairs,” they asserted.
They welcome the prime minister’s condemnation of the act and expression of shame. However, they lamented his failure to condemn the “communal pathology behind the act” or to show the resolve to change the social, political and administrative conditions under which such communal hate is bred.
They urged the prime minister to reach out to the families of the victims in Unnao and Kathua and seek their forgiveness “on behalf of all of us.” They also want the government to fast-track the prosecution of the perpetrators in the Kathua case and request for a court directed Special Investigation Team in the Unnao case.
The former bureaucrats want the government to renew a pledge to offer special protection to Muslims and members of other minority communities, Dalits, women and children, ensure protection to their life and liberty and use the state authority to extinguish any threat to these groups.
They also want the premier to convene an all party meeting to deliberate on ways in which the phenomenon of hate crime can be tackled socially, politically and administratively.