The pol­i­tics of rape

Com­plic­ity of the state is the worst as­pect

Business Standard - - OPINION -

The po­lit­i­cal and law-en­force­ment es­tab­lish­ment’s re­sponse to the rape cases in Kathua in Jammu and Kash­mir (J&K) and Un­nao in Ut­tar Pradesh of­fered more grim cor­rob­o­ra­tion of the deep-seated in­sti­tu­tional in­dif­fer­ence to crimes against women in In­dia. In both tragedies, the crimes them­selves, one of them of un­sur­passed bru­tal­ity, have been sub­or­di­nated to po­lit­i­cal and com­mu­nal agen­das. The fact that both rapes al­legedly in­volve mem­bers of the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is nei­ther here nor there. Far deeper cause for con­cern has been the at­tempt to pro­tect the ac­cused and the com­plic­ity of the po­lice in sup­press­ing ev­i­dence.

Charges against the ac­cused in Kathua took more than three months to file from the time the child’s mu­ti­lated body was dis­cov­ered in a dis­used tem­ple. Even more trou­bling is the lack of ur­gency shown by the BJP’s alliance part­ners in the state, the PDP, that too led by a woman, Mehbooba Mufti. It took a walkout by the Op­po­si­tion in the J&K Assem­bly and state-wide protests for Ms Mufti to call for an ac­cel­er­ated in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It is hard to es­cape the con­clu­sion that for Ms Mufti, the causes of jus­tice and women’s safety were sub­or­di­nated to the im­pulse to stay in power. In­dia and the world have also been treated to the uned­i­fy­ing sight of col­lu­sion by right-wing Hindu or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing two BJP min­is­ters in the state coali­tion and, in­cred­i­bly, lawyers, to protest against the fil­ing of charges against the ac­cused, all of whom are Hin­dus.

It is a mat­ter of great shame that it re­quired an or­der from the Supreme Court for the Kathua case to progress with­out hin­drance. The gang-rape and mur­der of a child from a no­madic Mus­lim tribe in J&K was de­signed to force Mus­lims to quit a Hindu-ma­jor­ity district. As with the par­ti­tion vi­o­lence of 1947 or the anti-Sikh ri­ots in 1984 and count­less com­mu­nal ri­ots, Kathua re­mains a dispir­it­ing re­minder of the price that in­no­cent women and girls in In­dia pay when po­lit­i­cal agen­das tran­scend the bounds of law and or­der. Even more trou­ble­some is the com­plic­ity of the po­lice. In Un­nao, for in­stance, the po­lice de­clined to file a first in­for­ma­tion re­port by the vic­tim be­cause the ac­cused was a pow­er­ful MLA from the rul­ing party. Her protest in front of the chief min­is­ter’s res­i­dence last week drew no re­sponse; bizarrely, it was her fa­ther who was ar­rested and beaten to death in cus­tody with the ac­tive co­op­er­a­tion of the MLA’s brother.

The tepid and de­layed re­ac­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who once spoke so elo­quently and coura­geously against rape at his first In­de­pen­dence Day speech in 2014 and launched the high-pro­file “Beti Bachao, Beti Pad­hao” cam­paign, is also trou­bling. His state­ment about the safety of “our daugh­ters” came only af­ter spon­ta­neous In­dia-wide protests. Hand­ing over the case to the Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion is scarcely a vote of con­fi­dence in the reg­u­lar law and or­der ap­pa­ra­tus in a state ruled by his own party. Nei­ther Kathua, nor the Un­nao cases are re­cent, and the fact that it has taken so long for them to garner at­ten­tion only un­der­lines how dif­fi­cult the fight for jus­tice still re­mains for rape vic­tims even five years af­ter pas­sage of the Nirb­haya leg­is­la­tion.

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