A nine-year-old girl was allegedly raped last Sunday at a madrasa by a 67-year-old man, who ran it. He gave her a Rs 5-coin, locked himself with her in a room and raped her. The girl was threatened that in case she told anyone, he would kill her parents. One cannot imagine what she might have gone through, especially when the aunt, with whom she stayed, could not make out what happened to her. A neighbour raised the alarm bell and called the women helpline after she saw blood stains on her clothes.
A fortnight ago, seven-year-old Ashish from Swaroop Nagar, Delhi, who went to his uncle’s house on January 7 for receiving his birthday gift, was found dead in his uncle’s house. And this uncle was no one else but a tenant who had become so close to the child that he used to call him “ chacha” (uncle).
Who knew that this chacha would one day kill him to retaliate against his parents and also try to extract some Rs. 15-20 lakh as ransom. Worse, this man was aspiring to be an IAS officer. He took the police for a ride by portraying as a perfect relative, concerned over the missing boy. The family and friends never thought he would kill him. The room where he had kept the body stank for so many days. He would kill rats to show them as the source of the foul smell.
Not even a month ago, there was another story of an eight-month-old girl being raped brutally in Shakurpur Basti in North-West Delhi. And the crime was done allegedly by the girl’s 28-year-old cousin. The accused was arrested and he confessed to his crime. The news was also covered by some of the international media houses like the BBC, the New York Times, The USA today and The Independent. Their headlines suggested outrage.
The news was reported widely by the Indian media too but it could not evoke the kind of response that the Nirbhaya incident did a few years ago. A few media agencies stepped in with catchy headlines and emotional outbursts to fill the void. Needless to say, they eyed public attention for their channel. Yes, what they reported and the words they coined could bring the viewer to tears. Beyond this, only a few public figures responded. One strong reaction came from Swati Maliwal, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW). This is what she tweeted:
“8 month old baby’s rape is also rape of DCW. Despite our repeated demands, the system hasn't moved. From today I have launched a protest-Satyagrah. Won't go back home for the next 30 days. Will work day and night to move the system”.
She had been writing strongly on crime against women and children. Being the head of an institution that acts as a public watchdog, the reaction is obvious. But absence of public reaction speaks a lot about us who form society. Does it mean that we are slowly coming to terms with what is happening in our surroundings? Have we actually accepted crime as a part of our lives?
When a six-year-old child was killed in Gurgaon’s Ryan International School, every parent asked the school where their child studied about the safety measures that the school was taking to ensure child safety. Even the government sprang into action. Private schools were asked to ensure installation of CCTV cameras and provide separate toilets for staff.
This author is the mother of a six-year-old, who felt suspicious, when she saw a different conductor in the school bus. It was virtually a nightmare, which almost everyone went through. What if something happens in the school? Things became normal within a few days of the incident. And we stopped questioning. We stopped putting pressure on our minds.
And even If something grabs media and public attention, what generally would we all be doing? We would all, perhaps, be putting the entire blame on the system, the police, the law and the lawmakers. Yes, to some extent, they should be held responsible. Are we as a society not failing in upholding our own values? What would the system do when the perpetrator is none else but what we call “ ghar ka aadmi”?
Our children were safe a few decades ago. We did not tell our kids to beware of their surroundings as much as we do today. At least, this author does not remember her mother giving a word of caution. Nor did we teach them about good touch and bad touch! We enjoyed our childhood freely but what are we giving our children — a legacy of fear, threat and trauma. Beyond the law and order fragilities, we are moving towards a decaying capital of stakeholders called citizens.
The latest data released by the national crime records bureau (NCRB) shows that there is a record increase of 82 per cent in the crime rate against children. There were 10,854 such cases in 2015, while the number grew to 19,765 in 2016. This data is only for sexual crimes against children. This adds to what the UN committee on rights of the child observed in 2014 – one in every three rape victims in India is a child.
Even a survey conducted by the ministry of women and child welfare found that 53.22 per cent of the participants reported some form of sexual abuse. And 50 per cent of the culprits knew the victim and were “people in trust and care-givers.”
What about other criminal cases against children? The NCRB shows an increase of 19.6 per cent in such cases between 2014 and 2016 from 89,423 to 1,06,958. And the national capital reported 7.6 per cent cases, the highest among all states.
It is a fact that a large majority of cases go unreported fearing social stigma and cultural restrictions. So one can easily infer that if socio-cultural mores were overcome, the crime rate would surge even higher than what is shown in the NCRB. An in-depth analysis done by a leading non-government organisation, working on child rights, has found that there has been an increase of 500 per cent in crime against children over the past one decade. Whom shall we hold accountable?
We try to escape by labelling such cases as a law and order problem. Yes, we have come across cases where those entrusted with the responsibility of doing the minimum tried to escape their duty either by denying filing a first information report or by counselling the victim and saying “ mamla rafa dafa kardo” in the name of social stigma. We have also come across stories where those stationed for reporting crime did not even know what the POCSO (protection of children against sexual offences) Act is? And what they should do if a crime is reported under it.
Aniruddhsinh Parmar, 59, who was a police inspector with Shehrkotda police station, Ahmedabad, is a case in point. While appearing for a hearing in a special court recently, the inspector confessed that he did not know the full form of POCSO. Not only this, he is reported to have given a statement that the Act is intended at “sexual life saving." Imagine, this inspector was investigating a case registered under the Act. He has already served for more than 23 years as a police officer.
Needless to say, the inspector would not have fulfilled his duties. There are many such cases. In fact, a survey done by a non-profit organisation in Bengaluru in 2015 reveals that more than three-fourth of the surveyed police personnel has not undergone any formal training under POCSO. And only a few knew that the child’s consent is a must before a medical examination. And who shall be responsible if such people help in protecting the interest of the culprit instead of the victim? Certainly, what we call as the “system”.
Investigation comes at a later stage after the crime has taken place. One may wonder how preventive policing shall help us in curbing crime beyond a point when involvement of trusted people has been proved repeatedly. Even statistics has shown the flip side of our own self that we don’t want to reveal beyond the closed doors of our houses. Punitive measures act as deterrents but have limited utility when that ugly chacha or cousin stays within our surroundings or may be in our homes!
We as a society are equally responsible for what we give to our children as our legal machinery or system is. The need of the hour is to strengthen our own value system and to ensure that the legal machinery works for the victim and not for the culprit.
(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at Jassi.firstname.lastname@example.org )
(Published on 05th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 10)