Once again the whole country is aghast at the brutal gang rape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl from Uttar Pradesh who succumbed to injuries in a Delhi hospital last Tuesday after fighting for her life for fifteen days. It was due to the callous attitude of the local police and the U.P administration, which led to her sad end. Bowing to pressure, four accused belonging to the upper caste were arrested and are now in police custody.
Had the police and the U.P. administration been not so callous and had the girl been from an upper caste, the end would have been different. Dalits are at the bottom of the caste system and they face discrimination despite many laws protecting them.
It is not surprising that the political parties continue to exploit the situation for their own benefit. Eight years ago, the BJP was in opposition and condemned the Nirbhaya gang rape and took to the streets. Today, the Congress party is doing the same.
The Congress seized the moment and the top Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra marched to the residence of the murdered Dalit girl in Hathra on Saturday. As the police did not allow them there was a showdown after which they met the girl’s family. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad has also accused the state government of inaction. The two former chief ministers Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and the BSP chief Mayawati (who is herself a Dalit) have confined themselves to tweets condemning the government. Bowing to the public and political pressure UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has announced a CBI probes on Saturday.
The Hathra gruesome murder is not just one more rape case as it shows that whatever laws are passed by Parliament, women, particularly poor Dalit women have to fight for justice right from registering an FIR. According to the 2019 annual report of the National Crime Record bureau 32, 033 rape cases were registered across the country, or an average of 88 cases daily, One rape every 16 minutes was reported.
The Nirbhaya rape case in December, 2012 shook the conscience of the nation. It took eight years for the justice system to execute the accused in March. The government allocated a huge amount for the rape victims after the Nirbhaya case but it is not distributed satisfactorily.
Since 2012 though new laws were passed increasing penalties for sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse, they have not deterred the rapists. As the Hathra case shows perpetrators are still not scared of the rule of law. A vigilant media brings out such shocking incidents,
What is the remedy and do we need more stringent laws? What needed is not more laws but the strict implementation of the existing laws by the police, government, and law enforcement agencies. The mindset of the police and the judicial system should be sympathetic to the rape victims and take note of their complaints. The backlog is stupendous and the cases take too long, Justice delayed is justice denied. It is important that the judicial system needs to respond to public needs.
Secondly, it is a sad commentary that despite the Supreme Court’s observations that judicial reforms were needed urgently, the government is dragging its feet. Archaic laws need to be amended. It is bizarre that when a child of two or three is raped and is unable to give evidence, the culprits go scot-free because the mother’s evidence is considered secondary. How can a two-year-old child give evidence of rape? The onus of proof should not lie with the victim.
Thirdly, building up weak cases by the investigating agencies including the CBI has enabled the influential culprits to get away free or with minimum punishment.
The fourth is the educational reforms. There is no doubt that the system needs some shaking up. The children should be taught moral values right from their childhood and the children should be taught to respect women in a country where the Shakti cult is still relevant. Girls should be taught self-defense in schools.
The fifth is the social outlook. The society has to change its present attitude. Many women still do not go to the police to report these incidents for lack of faith in the system. Unless rapists are brought to book they may be emboldened to attempt more rapes. A watchful society is very necessary to check these heinous crimes.
It is apt to remember the quotation in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Cassius, a nobleman, confides in his friend Brutus that in the best interests of the Public Julius Caesar must be stopped from becoming the monarch of the Roman Empire. Cassius tells him “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but ourselves, that we are underlings.” The solution to the increasing number of rapes and atrocities on women lies in us, not elsewhere!
Kalyani Shankar is a senior journalist and analyst based in New Delhi.