This week yet another incident of sexual exploitation of a child has surfaced, which has shaken the nation to its core. An 8-year-old girl named was brutally gang-raped and murdered in the town of Kathua, in the month of January. The girl was a member of a Bakarwal Muslim community, residing in Rasana region of Kathua district who were nomadic pastoral tribes. During one of her pastoral ventures, she was allegedly kidnapped, held captive, starved, sedated and raped repeatedly by 8 men, in the Culvert region of a Hindu temple.
The aftermath which followed the incident was unforeseen and rather shocking for the whole nation, where protests were organized in support of the accused. A group of lawyers had blocked the police from entering the court for filing the charges of the incident, also rallies were organized in furtherance of the same. The mob consisted of government ministers, lawyers, and women with national flags protesting the framing of the charges against the accused. Despite the aforementioned protests in favor of the accused, this incident has incinerated a wave of protests against the increasing sexual crimes against children, acted with an ulterior motive of domination of minority groups. In this case, one of the alleged eight accused was known to belong to a Hindu dominated group. He was known for his remarks directed to drive the bakarwals out by means of not providing them land for grazing and other impediments in pursuance of same. The victim belonged to the minority group of tribal Muslims who represented a negligible 8% of the local population of herders, who visited the Hindu region of Jammu for grazing and other pastoral purposes.
What should worry a person, as a citizen of this nation is the approach of the media, the groups and the government towards this incident. Some of the statements and perspectives presented by the most elite sections of the society were disgraceful, to say the least. This incident was termed as a false and directed to incite minority populations of the country against the ruling government, for the general elections due in 2019. Also, a section of the society which admitted the incident to be true jumped in to draw comparisons of underreporting of other rapes, where girls belonging to the Hindu community were targeted. Despite the commendable effort by Senior Superintendent of Police Ramesh Kumar Jalla, who submitted the charge sheet in record time, it is surprising that a substantial section of society is coloring this incident with terms such as political conspiracy and pseudo-secularism.
A girl, 8 years of age, an age where she was expected to muse over fairy tales, was subjected instead to repeated sexual exploitations by eight men, spread over four days. She was deprived of food, held captive by strange men who took turns to assault her body and soul to ‘satisfy their lust’ and also scare the nomads out of the Hindu dominated region of Jammu—all under the guise of performing some esoteric ‘ritual’. She was blissfully unaware of the terms of Communalism, Religion, General Elections, Minority, or and the complex discourses doing the rounds in the wake of her gruesome death. She will never understand what she had done to deserve this horrific end to her short life even if she tries to think it through to the end of the times. Nor would we. In a sense, the trending hashtag of #JusticeForHumanity is a lost cause. True, there might be stringent laws, swift action to prosecute the accused, or even raise awareness, but will she ever get justice? Will her soul ever rest in peace after the demonic exploits by eight men who left her soul and the collective psyche of India scarred for eternity? Will she ever get the childhood and the life of dignity she deserved and was ‘guaranteed’ by the Constitution and every other institution of this country had promised her? No.
Actions, and not words in terms of sufficient safeguards towards women’s safety, stringent laws against child abuse, prevention of abuse in the workplace and executive amendments to ensure speedy justice for the victims must be ensured. Furthermore, sexual awareness must be made ubiquitous and accessible, to every section of the society. A prominent reason for rising child abuses is an appalling lack of awareness, which makes the children, and often their parents vulnerable to luring and entrapment by the adults, leading to rapes. Furthermore, the society needs to adapt itself to provide an environment where the victims and survivors can co-exist as human beings and are not subjected to isolation, blaming and shaming for the heinous act of the rapist.
Sans an ecosystem of safety, awareness and empathy, mere stringent laws and executive reforms would be worthless, as evinced in the numerous cases where the victim is afraid to lodge a complaint against the rapist due to fear of being shamed by the society. The 8 year old girl’s tragic death ought to give jitters down whatever remains of India’s moral spine and compel us to ensure a safe and secure environment for girls to move without the fear of getting raped and murdered.
Bodhisattwa Majumder is a student of Law at the Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai. He can be reached at bodhi.mazumder[at]gmail.com