On 19th of April I was in the middle of conducting a workshop on Prevention of Sexual Abuse with 50 children in Mumbai as a part of ADMCFs ‘Break the Silence Campaign’ in India. While I spoke to the kids I felt as if I were playing a big role in shaping the future of my country. I told them how to protect themselves from abuse, how to say ‘NO’ when someone tried to touch them, how to escape, that there is a new law to protect them from abuse, that the people of India are awake after what happened in Delhi in December last year.
Yet, on the same day in a small flat in Delhi a 5-year-old girl was heard crying in pain by her neighbors. Starved for close to 40 hours and missing for two days, she was finally found. Soon the family discovered that a 22-year-old man who lived in the same building had raped the girl and left her to die. Intoxicated, this mentally sick man raped the little girl in the worst possible way. He tried to kill her by strangling her and slitting her wrist. But the little girl survived against all odds. She perhaps survived to tell her tale to the world and pose a few questions to her countrymen. India’s future has been raped again and there are so many questions that need to be answered.
When the 23-year-old medical student was raped in Delhi in December 2012, the country felt that change had begun. Angry citizens condemned the Delhi administration, police and ruling Government. Promises were made of better policing, enhanced security for women, 24-hour helplines and stricter punishment for rapists. But the sad truth is that NOTHING has changed in the National capital and once again the administration has been caught making empty promises.
The horrific case of the 5-year-old girl has brought out in the open the incompetence and insensitivity of the Delhi police. A complaint was lodged on the evening of 16th of April when the girl went missing. Not a single policeman went to her residence to conduct a search; On April 19th, when the neighbors found the girl, the parents rushed to the police station to lodge an FIR (First Information Report). However, the policeman offered a bribe of Rs. 2000/- and asked them to shut up – they were told not to speak to the media. When two girl volunteers from a protest group tried to question the police, one of them was slapped; this was caught on camera and was flashed across news channels. It was only after public outrage that the police registered a complaint and suspended the cop who slapped the volunteer. But there are many more questions that need to be answered.
I wonder if police would have acted similarly if a parent from a posh colony in North Delhi had filed a missing persons complaint? I wonder if they would have offered the parents a bribe of Rs. 2000? The administration in our country is biased toward people who are educated, who have the money and muscle power. Had this been a politician or industrialist’s daughter missing, the entire police force in Delhi would have worked round-the-clock to find the child. Perhaps the chief minister herself would be searching for the child. The police could not care about the daughter of two daily wage earners, who cannot speak English and don’t have the clout to move the administration. Do we really value our children based on the class they belong? Have we reached this point?
The belief was that the Delhi gang rape would stand as a precedent to stop crime against women and girls in India. When it happened, people demanded death penalty for rapists. a But I wonder whether the brutality suffered by the young medical student in December has really set a precedent? The 22-year-old man who raped the little girl had seen the protests in Delhi and also perhaps knew that the country is now looking at stringent punishment for rapists. In spite of this he had the courage to rape the little girl. Indeed, ironically, post the Delhi gang rape the number of gang rapes and sexual assault on children has continued to rise in Delhi and elsewhere. Do we need to do something more than just announcing a death penalty for rapists?
This incident perhaps could also have been avoided only if we had a clear perspective on how we treat our rapists. The 22-year-old man is not a first time offender. He was allegedly involved in the rape of his sister-in-law in their village in Bihar; he also had raped his wife before marriage. The village council forcefully married him to his wife once they found out about the rape. This is common practice in many rape cases in India: An offender is married to the victim to save the family from shame in the society, with no regard to the women’s feelings. How I wish the village council had instead lodged a complaint against the rapist and put him behind bars – perhaps the 5-year-old girl could have been saved from trauma.
The lack of a vigilant community and proper mechanism for child protection is also out in the open. When the girl went missing, none of the community members or building residents took active interest in finding her. The girl was last seen playing outside the building and perhaps the lack of vigil helped the rapist to entice her to the basement with a chocolate. When the parents lodged a missing persons complaint, the police did not take any action; there was no search. This shows that we are not serious about child protection in this country.
We the people of India must something significant to curb this menace. Why can’t we make sex education and prevention of abuse compulsory in schools? Why can’t we educate communities about vigil and introduce child protection mechanisms at the community level? Why can’t we sensitize and train our policemen appropriately? Why can’t NGOs working in communities with children train parents about child protection? Can we stop marrying rapists to victims? The 5-yearold miraculously survived. But let’s not wait for a miracle to stop rapes in India.