Across the world, our name is mud. Watch the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera – and witness the contempt with which they associate our country only with this particular crime
According to official statistics, there were 2,487 rape cases reported in 1971. The number soared to 24, 206 in 2011, the latest year for which information is available, or roughly ten times. In that year 35,565 women and girls were kidnapped, 42,968 were molested, and 8,570 were sexually harassed.
ON December 16, in New Delhi and many other cities and towns, there were big and angry demonstrations to observe the anniversary of the barbaric gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old scholar in a Delhi bus that had enraged the entire country. But ironically as well as tragically, a series of the same brutality was being inflicted on helpless women across the country at the same time. These were not stray incidents, but part of a seemingly established pattern in a land that boasts of treating its women as symbols of Goddess Shakti (strength).
In the nation’s capital, a Danish woman who had lost the way to her hotel was gang raped by a group of young men, including minors, who had promised to help her. The beasts also robbed her. In Kolkata, the parents of a 16-year-old girl who was first gang-raped and then burnt to death, were appealing to the high court for help “because the police were doing nothing.” There is no dearth of backwoodsmen in this country who believe and preach that rapes take place because women have started wearing ‘provocative’ western dresses. Some educational institutions have even banned jeans within their premises. As it happened, just after a legislator in UP had held forth that there were hardly any rapes in South India because women there ‘dressed fully’, came the news of a ghastly incident in Chennai. A poor woman who was lost and bewildered because she had been raped by some thugs was raped a second time by another gang of criminals. These instances are illustrative, not exhaustive.
Their message is that the new strict laws that were enacted immediately after the December 2012 Delhi outrage are not being enforced because the police are indifferent and have not bothered to keep their promise to light up the dark spaces that are a blessing to rapists and to patrol the streets effectively. The luckless Danish woman, for instance, was raped close to the New Delhi Railway Station, indeed near the State Entry Road used by British viceroys to drive to their special train in an era when there was no air travel. There were four PVRs (police vans) in the vicinity. One of them was specifically duty-bound to visit the area where the monstrous crime was taking place, but did not bother to do so.
No wonder, retired Justice Usha Mehra, who prepared a report on what the police must do to prevent rapes and get the beastly rapists duly punished, regrets that not a single of her detailed instructions has been followed. The reason for this is not far to seek. A New Delhi magazine that interviewed the capital’s 30 senior police officers, reported that half of them said that most of the cases of alleged rape were, in fact, consensual. Many of these were cases of ‘prostitution’ that turn into rape when the ‘money paid is inadequate.’
Last year, 754 men were arrested for rape in Delhi, apart from the accused persons in the worst case of December 2012. Of these, only one has been convicted and sentenced so far. All other cases are pending, for which the investigating agencies and subordinate judiciary must share the blame.
Time was when it was thought that out of every 10 rapes, only one was reported. The proportion has certainly gone up since then. For, women are becoming more conscious of their rights and have the support of many activist groups and the saner section of society.
According to official statistics, there were 2,487 reported rape cases in 1971. The number soared to 24, 206 in 2011, the latest year for which information is available, or roughly ten times. In that year 35,565 women and girls were kidnapped, 42,968 were molested, and 8,570 were sexually harassed. Shockingly, nearly a lakh of women – 99,135, to be precise – suffered cruelty at the hands of their husbands and other relatives, often leading to what are euphemistically called ‘dowry deaths’, but are in reality, cases of bride-burning.
The woman from Denmark, who left Delhi the morning after, is not the only foreign woman to be gang raped. There have been several more instances. In May 2013, a Swiss woman, on a cycling holiday, along with her husband, in Madhya Pradesh, was gang raped one evening and her husband was beaten up. In Agra, an Englishwoman injured herself by jumping from the balcony of her hotel room to escape sexual assault by the hotel manager. A Polish young woman was drugged and subjected to rape after rape, and a foreign woman diplomat representing her country in India was raped in the parking lot of the Siri Fort auditorium, after a cultural show.
In the opinion of Vrinda Grover, a leading activist for women’s rights, foreign women are ‘particularly vulnerable’ because they don’t have the ‘heightened sense of alert’ Indian women have developed to protect themselves in the country’s ‘misogynist culture.’
It is no surprise therefore that across the world, India’s name is mud. Listen to any of the prominent foreign TV networks – BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera – and witness the contempt with which they associate India only with rape. Some smart bureaucrat in the tourism ministry had coined the expression ‘Incredible India’ to attract more and more foreign tourists. India has indeed become incredible, but in a wrong way. Consequently, instead of hordes of tourists descending on this country, people in many foreign countries are reluctant to do so. Their governments are advising them, particularly the women, to avoid travelling to India.
In the words of a foreign observer, everyone is wondering why half the population consisting of women in the world’s largest democracy with powerful women leaders lives in “fear and restrictions that would cause no offence to a Taliban mullah in Kandahar.”
Tragically, the central and state governments are guilty of not doing their duty in this respect, despite their overblown rhetoric in this election year about their deep concern for women and children. And what a coincidence it is that as I write this article, there comes from Kolkata another wrenching news of a particularly cruel case of rape. It is time Mamata Banerjee realises that in the matter of unpunished and even unacknowledged rapes, her government’s reputation is the worst.