Rape cases that mobilized Indian conscience
By Virginia Saldanha
The Kathua and Unnao rapes are the testimony to the current political climate of gender, caste and communal divisiveness gaining ground in India and demonstrating that atrocities on women in the country can enjoy absolute impunity.
While Indian civil society is still besieged with the horrific rapes of Kathua and Unnao, Sunday morning (April 15) brought news of yet another ghastly rape in Surat. A nine-year-old girl’s body has been found with over 80 injuries, including some on her private parts. The post-mortem revealed that the girl was raped and tortured for at least eight days. She was later strangled to death.
It is indeed very sad and incomprehensible to the average peace-loving citizen that whenever a rape takes place, despite all the stringent rape laws in place, the law enforcement agencies are so easily co-opted by the powers that be to avoid registering the case according to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
The Unnao rape took place on June 4, 2017. Only recently the teenage victim finally related the story of harassment of her people in the village by the BJP MP Kuldeep Sengar to keep them away from their homes.
In August 2017 she approached top police officers in Unnao to try and register a complaint but she said they were too afraid to act against the powerful MLA. She and her father moved to Delhi to live in safety, but family needs drew them back home when he was arrested under false allegations, tortured in prison and later killed when the daughter dared to stage a protest in front of the Chief Minister’s residence in Lucknow, Utter Pradesh.
Kuldeep Senger has finally been arrested only after the nationwide expression of outrage at police inaction in the case.
Shockingly just before the uproar over the Unnao case, on April 10, the UP Chief Minister decided to withdraw the rape and abduction case against Swami Chinmayanand who is a three-time BJP MP and served as the Union Home Minister under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
In the mountainous region of Jammu, eight-year-old Asifa was grazing the family horses on the village commons. She belonged to the nomadic Muslim Barkawal community whose presence in the village was objected to by the settled Hindu community. She was allegedly abducted and raped in January 2018. She was found raped and murdered eight days after she was reported missing by her family. After investigations when the police moved to arrest the culprits involved in the crime, the lawyers at the Kathua district court prevented police from filing the charge sheet against the accused.
Soon after the accused were arrested, members of the extremist Hindu Ekta Manch or Hindu Unity Platform marched through the streets of Jammu carrying a massive Indian flag, chanting ‘Long Live India!’ and demanding that police release the men.
Just the two cases detailed here are evidence of how political power works in the country to shield criminals in its ranks.
It is important to understand that rape is used as an instrument of power to intimidate entire communities for the benefit of the powerful. Whether it is displacement to take over mineral-rich lands abandoned by the community for influential business houses; for political mileage or it is to eliminate those who pose a threat. Those targeted are bereft of all power, except when the collective conscience of India’s civil society kicks in after sufficient awareness is raised through a vigilant and fearless press.
On our part, we need to remain vigilant to ensure that our law enforcement and judicial systems work for the protection of women and vulnerable sections.
We need to eradicate our own hidden skeletons of intimidation and violence to the vulnerable and powerless within families, communities and workplaces and the use of corruption for our ends.
We need sound attitudinal change towards creating a society of equality where caste, communal, religious and gender differences are wiped out. We need a corruption free India as well.
Lobbying for gender awareness and human rights to be a compulsory part of education beginning with the school curricula would bring in concrete change. Let us work towards this.
(Virginia Saldanha is a theologian based in Mumbai. She is secretary of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement and the Indian Women Theologians Forum.)