The Land Of Abduction And Rape
It is sad that the national consciousness is only stirred after horrific rapes are committed. The everyday stories have numbed citizens to notice or care. Rape, harassment, sexual assault, eve-teasing, mistreatment and utter disrespect of women are denounced, yet these are accepted, because they have become part of our daily lives
The December 2012 Delhi gang-rape case shook the nation and catapulted India’s rape culture to the global audience. A culture formed due to a deep rooted patriarchal system and discrimination to a level where rape has become a tool to showcase power and dominance over women, and over those of lower castes. The response of politicians and decision makers still remains abysmal on this issue. There was much brouhaha; laws were enacted to make the nation more civilized in the matters about women’s rights and safety issues. Even after two landmark judgments, given on the changed laws, stories of abuse and rape continue to trickle in on a daily basis, albeit less highlighted by the media due to the lack of any shock factor. The records of a rape being committed every 22 minutes in India still stands, even though statistics and official records never reveal the full picture, as most of the cases go unreported due to social stigma and the spreading culture of tolerance for sexual violence in the country.
It is sad that the national consciousness is only stirred after horrific rapes are committed. The everyday stories have numbed citizens to notice or care. Rape, harassment, sexual assault, eve-teasing, mistreatment and utter disrespect of women are denounced, yet these are accepted, because they have become part of our daily lives. The social stigma that greets a victim is saddening enough for them to wish they hadn’t reported it in the first place. Women are pressurized by family and even police to keep quiet about sexual assaults, and those who do report, are often ostracized and ridiculed publicly. Some of them are set alight or simply killed.
The brutal gang-rape and murder of two girls, cousins, aged 14 and 15 years, who had gone to the fields in the village of Katra, in Uttar Pradesh Badaun’s District, because they had no toilet at home. They never returned, their bodies were found hanging from a mango tree after being brutally raped. The post-mortem report confirmed rape; it also confirmed that they were strangled. The families of the girls allege that for many hours after the girls went missing the local police refused to register a first information report. It was only when angry villagers sat under the tree and prevented authorities from taking them down until the suspects were arrested, that the police was forced to swing into action mode. Till that time, TV crews had already captured the grisly visuals of the girls’ dead bodies swaying in the wind and the media took up the story thereafter.
The media, fed up after three months of grueling election reportage, took up the incident and went to town. There were a steady stream of politicos of all hue and colours, raising some heat and dust, a CBI probe was ordered, promises of fast track court trial, doling our belated compensation and it will be back to square one. Until the next incident happens. For the matter, while this gruesome act happened, four more cases were reported from the state, one involved a senior police official who outraged the modesty of a female constable. In a strange twist to matters, the incidence of juveniles being involved in such gruesome crimes is on the increase.
This incident is also a grim reminder of the precarious state of utter lawlessness and chaos that Uttar Pradesh has descended into. Two of the accused were policemen. From power shortages, to communal riots and caste violence, the two year old Akhilesh Yadav government has been doggedly evading accusations without offering any solutions or results. Even the recent drubbing in the elections seems to have fallen short in waking them up to the reality of their sheer incompetence in running their administration. Akhilesh Yadav has termed the gang rape as “unfortunate and ordered the police to arrest all the accused immediately adding that a fast-track court should be constituted to ensure that they were duly punished. The CM also sanctioned financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the victims. But all this, after 3 days of the crime, in which the state’s police is also the guilty party. All the main accused is from the influential Yadav upper caste. The fathers of the victims have alleged that when they went to the local police station and asked that Yadav’s house be searched, the constables took the side of the culprits. They abused and misbehaved with them. Had the police acted on time, the girls could have been saved.
This dastardly crime has once again revealed the ugly underbelly of India’s age-old caste system, which still thrives in full flow in rural areas. The victims are from the Dalit community and the perpetrators of the heinous crime belong to the higher caste. For centuries, Dalits have been at the receiving end of discrimination in India, wherein a upper caste born would feel free to harass, rape and even murder lower castes with impunity and such cases show that things haven’t changed much, particularly for the Dalit women, who are harassed, taunted and raped at will—many times just for their crime of belonging to the low caste. Uttar Pradesh is still strongly divided by caste and religion, a fact expertly exploited by politicians for their political gains.
When journos had queried the UP CM about the lawlessness in Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav shot back, saying, “Aapko toh khatra nahin hua? (it’s not as if you faced any danger?)“. You are safe, so why do you worry”. He said suggested that one should Google search about such crimes in other states, why is UP only targeted? What more can be expected from the son of a man who publicly opposed to the new stringent laws of gang rapists being executed by saying while addressing a rally in Moradabad in April, “Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain. Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phansi di jayegi? (First, girls and boys become friends. Then, when differences occur between them, the girls accuse boys of rape. Boys may make mistakes, but should they be hanged for it?)”. His loathe-worthy comment points towards how little our leaders understand sexual violence and how their ignorance towards something so rampant and serious has taken over any possibility of a solution. Mulayam had recently brazenly opined that those concerned about crimes in UP should stay in Delhi. He said that his party’s government not insensitive and was taking action against the culprits. “What to do…we are sensitive. We are not insensitive… Strict action is being taken against culprits. You do your work and let us do our work,” he said, when asked to comment. When cornered, his daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav assured the media that hubby Akhilesh’s government was taking the issue seriously and working towards it.
Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav, too let out a shot from the hip. He made a weird claim that “ when the relationship between girls and boys come out in open, it is termed as rape. In many places, girls and boys are ready to marry but honour
killings take place. The most saddening and serious thing is that such incidents are not stopping. These incidents happen in other places also but are not highlighted.”
Despite widespread criticism, the Uttar Pradesh government and Samajwadi Party leaders have remained defiant over their inaction in connection with the rising cases of rapes in the state. The MP from Badaun is Dharmendra Yadav, Mulayam Singh’s nephew. The Yadav clan, father, son and nephew, will now wait for this issue to die down and then go back to their default mode of incompetence. Remember, they still have three more years of power in Uttar Pradesh. All that the state government did was make big changes in the bureaucratic setup and appointed a new Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (Home).
The latest to join the bandwagon was Madhya Pradesh BJP leader Babulal Gaur. In a controversial remark he described rape as a “social crime”, saying “sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong”, and that the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police. The BJP dismissed Gaur’s comments as an expression of his personal views, and not the party’s.
And now the moot point of the story. Nearly half a billion Indians – or 48 per cent of the population-lack access to basic sanitation and defecate in the open. The situation is worse in villages where, according to the WHO and Unicef, some 65 per cent defecate in the open. And women appear to bear the brunt as they are mostly attacked and assaulted when they step out early in the morning or late in the evening. Several studies have shown that women without toilets at home are vulnerable to sexual violence when travelling to and from public facilities or open fields. The lack of toilets force women to walk to dark and dangerous places to find the privacy they need—those same dark and dangerous places where men wait to attack them.
The available evidence is glaringly disturbing. Women living in the urban slums of Delhi report specific incidents of girls less than ten years being raped while on their way to use a public toilet. When slum women go out in the open to defecate, local boys stare at them, make threats, pass lewd remarks and make physical gestures and when the opportunity is right, rape them. By one estimate, some 300 million women and girls in India defecate in the open. Most of them belong to underprivileged sections of the society and are too poor to afford toilets. The problem becomes more pronounced for rural women, as they have to use the fields around the villages before sunrise and after sunsets to relieve themselves, making them more vulnerable to assaults. The fathers of the two girls said they began looking for them soon after they had stepped out of their home to go to the fields, as there were no toilets in their home.
A silent demographic disaster in the making
As India grapples with what seems like a constant barrage of gruesome rapes, one question is asked again and again: Why is this happening? The answer lies in India’s skewed gender ratio, grossly distorted by the practice of prenatal sex selection in favor of the male child. Gender imbalance, caused by a shortage of marriageable women, results in higher rates of crime, including rape, committed by young unmarried men.
The situation is worst both in India and China, rapes are on the rise as the deficit of women increases. Right now, the statistics are worrying. India has 37 million more men than women, as of 2011 census data, and about 17 million excess men in the age group that commits most crimes, up from 7 million in 1991. Going by these figures, India’s problems with rape and other forms of violence against women –may only get worse, given the trend in India’s demographics. According to the 2011 crime statistics in India, of all the people arrested for rape crimes, almost 60 percent were men between the ages of 18 to 30 years and nearly 30 percent were men between the ages of 30 to 45 years.
In a natural state, slightly more male babies are born than females (roughly 105 male infants to 100 females). Male infants are a little more fragile than females at birth, and women generally have a slightly longer life expectancy, so absent conditions such as warfare or unequal access to health care and nutrition, we would expect to see a nearly 1:1 ratio of adult men and women of marriageable age.
India’s 2011 census showed 940 females to one thousand males, the most skewed ratio since India’s independence in 1947. In some regions, such as the Northern state of Haryana, there are only 830 females to 1000 males.
But, thanks to population growth and a still-prevalent practice of female foeticide, the number of “extra men” is growing among India’s youth. There will be about 30 million extra men in India between the age of 15 and 35, the study estimates. Overall, the Indian average gender ratio is far behind the global average of 984 for every 1,000 men, and is the second lowest in the world, before China. The Planning Commission, in a report on women’s rights and child rights released last year, called the gender imbalance in the sex ratio “a silent demographic disaster in the making.” The Indian government has tried to mend this deteriorating ratio through cash incentive programs that began in 2007. The idea, officials said, was to “force the families to look upon the girl as an asset rather than a liability since her very existence has led to cash inflow to the family.”
Delhi has long been considered one of the most unsafe big cities for women in India. North India is considered as more violent, more patriarchal, and more crime-ridden than the south. The reason for the big disparity itself comes down to the dowry system. Simply put, the bride’s family pays for the wedding and then gives a lavish gift to the groom and his family. The economic strife that this puts on the family makes people terrified that they will have a girl. Not only are they raising somebody who cannot work the fields or get a job and must stay home instead, but they also have to pay to get rid of that person. In such a system, it makes sense to not want to have a baby girl. As for forced sex and rape, it’s extremely easy to get away with crimes in India. (AD)
In February this year, a report in the Times of India quoted the police in another district of Uttar Pradesh as saying that 95 per cent of cases of rape and molestation took place when women and girls had left their homes to “answer a call of nature”. Being forced to defecate by rivers, in fields or in alleyways not only puts women and girls at greater risk of sexual violence and harassment; it is also a major public health risk. A similar incident occurred in Bhagana village in Haryana, where on 23 March, 2014, three minor girls belonging to a Dalit community were sedated and raped by a group of higher caste Jat men. The girls were on their way to the nearby fields to relieve themselves.
Dasra, a philanthropic organization in Pune, India, published an extensive study in 2012 titled “Squatting Rights: Access to Toilets in Urban India.” This study reported that approximately 30 per cent of women from the underprivileged sections of Indian society experience violent sexual assaults every year because lack of sanitation facilities forces them to go long distances to find secluded spots or public facilities to meet their bodily needs. This report specifically highlights that in “Delhi slums, up to 70 per cent of girls experience humiliation every day in terms of verbal harassment and half of them have been victims of grave physical assaults.”
The government schemes centred on sanitation have been a failure. There is no national policy on sanitation. Whatever little is given; there is no one to implement and monitor. Once the money is released to the state government, the centre considers the work done. The majority of the 5,40,00,000 toilets build by the rural ministry are not useable, and the Rs 1000 they allot to build a toilet is inadequate and takes about 2-3 years to reach. The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan that look after sanitation facilities has several loopholes. The NBA in rural areas focus mostly on household toilets, leaving out public toilets. These schemes also focus mainly on sanitation facilities, and not enclosed bathing spaces. Women face harassment and humiliation while bathing too. For more than four decades, Sulabh International has been promoting sanitation schemes in the country. Its founder Brindeshwar Pathak, a pioneer in environmental sanitation, has vowed to ensure toilets at every home. He was the first to announce toilets for the families of the two victims. The government of India should , in the new Charter of Rights, recognize that access to sanitation , both a matter of public health and gender rights. Everyday 1,600 Indian children, under the age of five, die due to lack of proper sanitation. They die from diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and parasitic and worm infections.
For many women in urban and rural India, lack of sanitation is linked to issues of health, safety, dignity, and education. Toilets increase school attendance for girls because parents are more likely to send their menstruating daughters to school if they know that their daughters can dispose of their sanitary cloth napkins in safe toilet facilities. The Human Resource Development Ministry estimates that a lack of access to toilets causes girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen to miss on average five days of school per month. Although a 2011 Supreme Court ruling required every public school to have toilets, only 18 per cent have gender-segregated facilities, and 11 per cent simply have no facilities.
Recently, families in some villages in the state of Maharashtra, India have refused to marry their daughters into families that don’t have proper toilets. The 2008 U.N. report mentions that these families have painted signs in their village that states, “Daughters from our village are not married into villages where open defecation is practiced.” There were government sponsored television advertisements in this context too.
The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has demanded action against sexual violence and appealed to the society to reject the destructive attitude of boys will be boys. “In just the last two weeks, we have seen despicable attacks against women and girls around the world—from Nigeria to Pakistan and from California to India. I was especially appalled by the brutal rape and gruesome murder of two teenaged women in India who had ventured out because they did not have access to a toilet,” Ban said at the launch of a video campaign on ending sexual violence through gender equality. “We say no to the dismissive, destructive attitude of ‘Boys will be boys’, he said.
In 2012, the UPA led Government at the center became known to have badly handled the 16th December rape case, which also led to one of the largest youth protests the country has ever seen. The freshly minted Prime Minister Narendra Modi had opined 2012, “Toilets first, Temples later”. His comments that emphasis should be given to construct ‘sauchalayas’ rather than ‘devalayas’ had evoked sharp reactions from Hindu groups.
In Modi’s landslide victory, the issue of ‘Women Safety’ was a major plank. Many women voted the BJP en masse on this issue. Surprisingly, this was totally missing from the ’10 Point Agenda’ that was announced last week. That too a good two days after the gruesome rape was reported. Women activists and the opposition were quick to take up the issue hammer and tongs. The PM has been reading out the riot act to his new ministers, asking them to prioritize their work. It remains to be seen how much priority he accords to the safety of women and how soon. Mr. Modi, are you listening?
By Anil Dhir