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Civil society and state must join hands to battle sexual crimes against children

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The latest horror story comes from Rohtak in Haryana, where a young girl was brutally gang-raped and murdered in the most savage manner. Excerpts:

There has been much debate over the recent decision of the Supreme Court confirming the death penalty for the rapists and killers in the December 2012 Delhi case. The gruesome crime had sparked nationwide outrage which led to the formulation of more stringent laws to deal with crimes against women and juveniles breaking the law.

But even as I follow this debate, I feel deeply anguished. The latest horror story comes from Rohtak in Haryana, where a young girl was brutally gang-raped and murdered in the most savage manner.

It seems there is no depth that sheer inhuman barbarity cannot plunge to. Consider the following incidents from 2017: A two-year-old girl was raped by her neighbour in Delhi and is in critical condition. Her parents had gone shopping and the girl was playing outside when the neighbour took her to his house. A five-year-old girl went missing in Bengaluru and her body was later discovered under the bed of a neighbour who was apparently helping the parents look for the child. A 10-year-old girl in Malda in Bengal was gang-raped inside a “club” and strangled to death. In a village in Aurangabad in Maharashtra, a 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and murdered.

These are just a handful of stories from across India. When the National Crime Records Bureau eventually collects, tabulates and releases the “statistics”, perhaps we will have some more debates on television channels and seminars. That is, perhaps, important and maybe even necessary. But this numbing sequence of savagery deserves more. Too many of our young girls are being exploited and the abuse of even one innocent child is an abuse of all humanity. We are at a stage where expressing outrage is just not enough.

So, what can we do? The rapists in the December 2012 case will be hanged. But it is clear as day to all of us struggling for child rights that the laws that promised deterrence don’t seem to be deterring barbaric rapists from targeting the young. It is also clear that television studio-based psychological analysis will not be of any help. No region or state of India seems immune to this growing menace. Some of the savages are illiterate; some are educated IT professionals. Many are neighbours, relatives and known faces.

The first step has to be the creation of a more alert and responsive police force. Many of us will recall the horrific assault on a girl child, “Gudiya”, some years ago. If the local police had responded in time, Gudiya could have been spared the torture inflicted on her. Sadly, in many cases, far from responding effectively, local policemen target the victims. One such story came to light recently when it was alleged that a 14-year-old rape victim in Kaithal district in Haryana was “interrogated” by male policemen and touched inappropriately by them. Thousands of similar cases are reported every year from across India.

Police reforms are urgently required and civil society must exert immense pressure on legislators and the bureaucracy to stop paying lip-service and initiate concrete action.

Equally important are reforms within the judiciary. While a few high-profile cases seem to get due attention, tens of thousands of similar cases face inexcusable delays, despite the promise of state governments to set up fast-track courts for rape victims. Some months before the December 2012 incident, another young girl in Delhi was abducted, gang-raped, mutilated and murdered. Despite the efforts of her parents, the Supreme Court, it seems, has not found the time to take up this case. If punishment is to act as a deterrent against such heinous crimes, then justice has to be delivered in a time-bound manner.

But beyond the police and the courts, the alarming rise in sexual assaults on young girls reveals a growing sickness within our society. There are no easy answers to these moral questions. But I am convinced that all of us in civil society need to urgently take up the challenge of sensitisation. From street theatre near slum clusters to awareness programmes in posh schools, all these tools need to be used aggressively and consistently. Our girls deserve at least this much dignity.

Just criticising is no longer enough.

We must act as family members, relatives, neighbours, friends, acquaintances and, most importantly, concerned citizens always keeping an eye on predators. Eternal vigilance is the price for not just liberty but also, the safety of our young girls.

(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘Outrage Isn’t Enough’)

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)

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