A 12-year-old succumbed to her burns after she was raped and set ablaze in Nagpur. Date: May 2013
A four-year-old breathed her last on a ventilator with a broken body and serious brain injuries after being brutally raped. Date: April 2013
A five-year-old named Gudiya (doll) battled to survive at the All India institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi following her being raped. Date: April 2013
A six-year-old in Gurgaon was found lying in a pool of blood with severe injuries to her genitals and lower intestines indicating multiple rapists. Date: Feb 2013
Tracing the trail of this endemic trend of child rape from Delhi ,where I study, to my hometown in Nagpur, is highly disturbing. Across India, gruesome stories tell a similar tale. The vulnerable are at greatest risk of being the victims.
These are helpless and muted cries of innocent children exploited and robbed of their childhood. These are frequent headlines shocking the nation and instilling fear in parents with little girls. Demographic and geographic changes are not altering this fact.
The nation-in-protest demands justice as they did after the Delhi gang-rape in December 2012 but more serious and pertinent questioned have to be addressed and answered by a society in transition, as sociologists choose to call it.
2001-2011 could well be called the decade of decadence, if figures are anything to go by. According to a recently published report by the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights, there has been an alarming 336 percent jump in child rape cases during this period in India. We can derive no consolation from the fact that other countries like South Africa, UK, Indonesia or Canada are much worse off with their child rape and abuse records. As per a report by Solidarity, South Africa is the world's child rape capital: a child is raped every three minutes! In India, these figures may perhaps be only the tip of the iceberg. It is no secret that the police does not register cases and many cases go unreported. Coupled with the fact that parents themselves shy away from reporting or filing an FIR for fear of being ostracized and conscious of the stigma attached to it.
It is distressing that a society cannot guarantee safety to its children. Can we be forgiving or dismiss some within us who derive pleasure from inflicting pain, especially on a helpless child? We simply cannot shrug off these incidents as merely being the outcome of a sadistic and maniacal mind which perpetrates such crimes but must closely analyze the malaise in our society. Social scientists rationalize this occurrence to a situation where communities have collapsed and family cohesion has suffered. With not enough job opportunities in rural India, there is a high rate of migration to the impersonal cities. The stark disparities between the haves and the have-nots and being away from their families, starved of sexual affection and contact is worsening the situation for the unfortunate girl child. The availability of cheap pornography on mobile phones combined with drug or substance abuse may be emboldening the predators. This assessment seems to be validated by the presence of pornographic CDs, empty liquor bottles, and a cigarette boxes at the site where the 12-year-old was found in Nagpur. That the predators seem to be not a bunch of hard-core criminals on the loose but are from amongst the friendly neighbourhood uncles, brothers, cousins, a teacher at school or in some cases even the father himself is horrifying to accept. Unfortunately the child is most vulnerable to being attacked where she is 'secure' and 'safe' -- her home and school. These are the same people whom the innocent child trusts and are lured by things as simple as sweets and chocolates. Heinous as this may sound, it is suspected the 12-year-old in Nagpur was lured by the promise of her birthday celebration with a cake. An empty cake box was found at the site of the crime.
The role of the police comes under sharp criticism. A recent sting operation by CNN-IBN caught police personnel stating that it is the fault of the girls in most cases which provoke rape -- what they wear, the company they keep, casting aspersions on the character of the victims, accusing them of alcohol consumption and that they should not be out late. There is no justification why girls are victims of rape and how these perceptions, however incorrect, are not associated with little girls! The fact is that filing an FIR in callous and insensitive police stations is the first of the nightmares a family faces. In an interview to the press, Gudiya's father insisted that it took him over six hours to convince the police to file an FIR and lodge a complaint. He said that the police did not take the matter seriously. While laws are in place and amendments are made, proper implemention remains the greatest hurdle. Police reforms have been on the anvil for years but no concrete action has emerged. Post the Delhi gang rape, the public pressure and protests saw the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013. The existence of another stringent new law, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) 2012 is not being used by the police appropriately in relevant cases and allowing the rapists to walk away easily. The government too has to share part of the blame in this tardy response to addressing the situation. If the past five months are an indicator, there seem little hope of the Nirbhaya fund taking off in the near future. The Rs. 1,000 crore fund set up, with much fanfare, by the government in memory of the Delhi gang rape victim was primarily aimed to assist women in distress and fund initiatives that improve gender parity. The government is yet undecided which ministry will be given charge of it -- Finance, Home or Women and Child Development!
Unless the three P's of society -- the politicians, police and the public -- do not prioritize the dealing of this issue, change age-old patriarchal mindsets and prepare to walk the talk, we will continue to witness such atrocities and teach our little girls some bitter lesson. Of living in fear, being untrusting, constantly suspicious and skeptical and growing up with a distorted view of relationships. Most importantly, to believe that no place is ever safe for them.