Six years after Delhi’s infamous Nirbhaya rape case, the brutality of rape raises its ugly head again. Whither India?
On a cold January afternoon, eight-year old Asifa Bano, who tended to her family horses, went to bring them back from the forests in her village some 72 km away from Jammu in northern India. Little did she realise what lay ahead.
The young girl was kidnapped and kept as hostage at a temple where she was brutally raped over four days, murdered and her body thrown off in the forest.
When she did not return home, her family and neighbours searched for her through the night, but unsuccessfully.
On January 12, two days after her disappearance the family filed a missing person’s complaint with the police, who allegedly were not very helpful. Their worst fears were confirmed on January 17 when Asifa’s body was found in the Hiranagar area of Kathua district in Jammu.
“She had been tortured. Her legs were broken,” recalled Naseema, the mother of Asifa who had rushed to the forest along with her husband to see the body. “Her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arm and fingers,” she was quoted by the media as saying.
According to the investigators, Asifa was kept hostage in a local temple for few days and sedated.The chargesheet alleged that she was “raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered”. She was strangled to death and then hit on the head twice with a stone.
Among the arrested was Sanji Ram, a retired official of the Revenue Department, and believed to have masterminded the heinous crime to create fear among the nomad ‘Bakerwal’ (goat-herd) community (to which Asifa belonged) in the village so that they could be pushed out. He was also the custodian of the temple where the girl was allegedly held in captivity.
The other accused, included Ram’s son Vishal Kumar, a police head constable, two special police officers (SPOs) and a sub-inspector of police were arrested in the case.
The incident shocked the entire state and the country. After a public outcry, the state government handed over the investigations to the local crime branch after the case was messed up by the officials of the local Hiranagar police station.
But even horrendous was the fact that the brutal murder of the young girl assumed communal proportions with members of Hindu Ekta Morcha and the Bar Association Kathua demanding that the investigation of the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation even as they opposed the arrests of the accused.
At Asifa’s funeral, her family wanted to bury her at a plot of land they bought few years ago but this was opposed by Hindu right-wing activists who threatened them with violence if they were to continue with the burial, reports said. So the family walked seven miles to bury her in another village.
Around the same time that Asifa’s rape and murder made news, in Uttar Pradesh the case of a 17-year old allegedly raped by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bangarmau legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar came to light. The victim had been running from pillar to post to get her complaint lodged but to no avail. She tried to set herself ablaze outside Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence on April 8, claiming inaction in the rape case that took place in 2017.
Later the same day, her father was picked up by the police and allegedly roughed up by Sengar and his aides, following which he died.
Five people including prime accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar’s brother Atul Sengar were arrested, officials said.
However, the Kathua and Unnao rape cases are just some of the ones that hogged the limelight. Read on.
Even as the country and the world continue to be outraged by the Kathua and Unnao rapes cases, this abhorrent act of rape continues with impunity throughout the country. Take a look of this month’s news report alone.
• 3 April: 12-year-old girl gang-raped at the site of a house under construction in Dumka in Jharkhand
• 23 April: Five-year-old girl raped in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh by a man living in her neighbourhood
• 22 April: Six-year-old girl raped in Odisha’s Cuttack district. Found unconscious in a school compound in Salipur area
• 21 April: Four-month-old girl abducted, raped and killed in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore town
• 20 April: Nine-year old raped and killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district
• 20 April: A Class 6 girl student kidnapped and raped for two days by her relative in Odisha’s Kalahandi district
• 19 April: 10-year-old girl raped and killed during a wedding function in Kabirdham district of Chhattisgarh
• 17 April: Mentally challenged minor girl raped by a youth and two of his friends filmed the crime in Delhi
• 17 April: Eight-year old raped and then murdered in Etah district of Uttar Pradesh
• 16 April: Disabled woman gang-raped in in Vijayanagaram district of Andhra Pradesh
• 15 April: Four-year-old girl raped by a youth in Odisha’s Balasore district
• 15 April: Minor girl gang raped in Patna
• 14 April: 17-year-old blind girl raped at her rented accommodation in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.
• 6 April: 8-year-old girl kidnapped and gang-raped by three persons in Odisha’s Kalahandi district
India approves landmark death penalty for rape of minors
The Indian government has responded to these rape cases with a death penalty for rapists. On April 22, President Ram Nath Kovind approved an ordinance to provide death penalty for those convicted of raping girls younger than 12 years besides clearing another ordinance to confiscate property of fugitive economic offenders.
The President promulgated The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, approved by the Cabinet on Saturday (April 21) that seeks to provide effective deterrence against rape and instil a sense of security among women, particularly young girls.
The ordinance amends the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
The ordinance comes against the backdrop of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, the rape of a teenager in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh and similar crimes in other parts of the country.
The development puts in place a number of measures for speedy investigation and trial of rape cases including a two-month time limit for investigation, two months for completion of trial and six months for disposal of appeals.
It provides that punishment for rape of a girl younger than 12 will be a minimum 20 years imprisonment or imprisonment for life or with death.
Punishment for gang rape of a girl under 16 years of age will invariably be imprisonment for rest of life.
In case of gang rape of a girl below 12 years, punishment will be jail for life or death sentence.
The minimum punishment in case of rape of women has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of seven years to 10 years, extendable to life imprisonment.
In case of rape of a girl aged below 16, minimum punishment has been increased from 10 to 20 years, extendable to imprisonment for rest of life — meaning imprisonment till that person’s natural life.
The ordinance also provides that the court has to give notice of 15 days to the Public Prosecutor and the representative of the victim before deciding bail applications in case of rape of a girl under 16 years of age.
There will be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years.
It also aims at strengthening investigation and prosecution including setting up fast track courts and special forensic labs in each state besides maintaining a national database of sexual offenders.
Opinions are divided on death penalty an effective deterrent. Experts are of the view that more should be done to equip the police forces with autonomy, sensitivity and modern forensic tools to secure higher conviction rates. Also given the country’s slow criminal justice system, it is believed that getting a death sentence could take years as judges tend to be more hesitant to pronounce this.
Yet some others argue that rape is rape and every rapist deserves the same punishment irrespective of the person’s age.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International India has termed a “knee-jerk reaction” the decision to introduce death penalty for those convicted of raping a child below the age of 12, calling on the government to improve implementation of existing laws to protect children from sexual abuse.
“Studies have shown that most perpetrators are ‘known’ to child victims and introducing the death penalty in such circumstances will only silence and further endanger children. Both the Justice Verma Committee and India’s Law Commission have questioned the deterrent value of death penalty in preventing crimes,” said Amnesty International India Programme Director Asmita Basu.
Against the backdrop of the nationwide, the Bombay High Court has observed sharply that India’s image has “taken a beating” with an increased perception abroad that it is a “country of crimes and rapes”.
WHY NO END TO RAPE IN INDIA?
Experts are of the opinion that a skewed sex ratio with 112 boys born for every 100 girls is making matters worse. The preference for a boy child persists and statistically 63 million women are “missing”, cites the BBC.
Patriarchy is another reason. As more and more women become financially independent, and try to push back on the sociocultural boundaries ascribed by tradition and assert their choices, men feel threatened by these newly emancipated women. “They are countering the power shift with an aggressive dominance, the most execrable manifestation of this being the rapes we are seeing”, says a report by the Guardian.
Politicians never make the rights and security of women an election issue. In fact, in 2014 when three young men were convicted for the rape of a journalist, Samajwadi party leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav said, “Boys make mistakes. They should not hang for this. We will change the anti-rape laws.”
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the issue of women was observed by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde who said, “When I was last in Davos, after Prime Minister Modi’s speech, I did tell him that he had not mentioned the women of India enough.”
What has been happening to Asifa and many other children, girls and women is revolting. It is time India created a safe space for the fairer sex. Otherwise, India’s reputation of being the world’s rape capital is here to stay.
(TIW & Agencies)