The brutal gang rape of India’s daughter on the night of 16th December, 2012, has awakened the whole nation from its deep slumber just like the fairy’s spell that was broken when the Prince finally arrived. As the tale goes, when the fairy cast a spell, everyone that lived in the castle – soldiers, ministers, guards, servants, knights, etc., all fell into a deep sleep, wherever they were at that very moment. Only when the Prince came and shouted ‘wake up! wake up!’ everyone woke up. But unlike the Prince in the tale, ‘Nirbhaya’ had to wake up the state at the cost of her life.
It is a very well known fact that crimes against women are rampant across the country. Under the Indian Penal Code, crimes against women include rape, kidnapping and abduction, homicide for dowry, torture, molestation, sexual harassment and the importation of girls. Not to mention the many cases which go unreported, as per the data of the National Crime Record Bureau, 2,28,650 incidents of crimes against women were reported in the country during 2011 alone.
The statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau showed that between 1953 and 2011, the incidents of rape went up by 873 percent. Despite the rise in the number of sexual crimes against women in India, the lackadaisical attitude of the concerned authorities to tackle the problems is a matter of serious concern. Many incidents could have been prevented including the heinous crime on 16th December if the police were pro-active in tracking criminals in the cities, if stern sexual assault laws were implemented and stern actions taken for every crime that had happened to many women and girls in the country.
Following the 16th December tragic incident in Delhi, there have been nation-wide protests, talks and debates by experts, professionals and people from all walks of life in the national television news channels, write-ups in many national newspapers etc., etc. The government also appointed a three-member panel of legal experts to review the criminal law headed by the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma. The committee has come out with a report ‘Amendments to Criminal Law’ in 29 days. Eminent jurists, legal professionals, NGOs, women’s groups and civil society were involved in compiling this report by sharing their views, knowledge and experience. Many citizens applaud the committee’s report while there was no response from the government initially. Finally, the Joint Secretary of MHA received the report although the panel wanted to submit the report to the Prime Minister. Later, the Prime Minister promised prompt action on the report. Subsequently, amendments are being made. For example, the term ‘rape’ is to be replaced by ‘sexual assault’, acid attack to be treated as sexual assault. However, activists are disappointed and furious as some key points including the ASFPA, marital rape, etc., did not appear in the Union Cabinet decisions.
While such steps have been initiated, sexual violence continues unabated in this country – dalits, SC/ST, Northeast communities in the metros and other parts of the country face sexual harassment and violence every day. In a class-divided society like India, how does it matter if a dalit girl/woman is raped and killed? How does it matter if SC/ST or Northeast girls/women are raped? How does it matter for the insensitive police who instead of helping them, further harass the already traumatized victims, which compels them to take extreme steps?
At this point let us do a recap of some incidents on Northeast women/girls that haunt us:
• Rape and murder of 8 years old tribal girl at Mahipalpur in Delhi on April 17, 2009. After she was raped and murdered, the accused dumped her inside the neighbour’s water tank. The 21 year old accused had several criminal records including a charge of raping an 11 years old girl in R.K. Puram in 2004. After he went missing from the area for two days he was later caught in a railway station in Delhi while trying to flee. Following the incident the girl’s parents left Delhi for good to settle in a faraway village which is not even reachable by phone. No one knows about the status of this case. Had the accused been punished earlier, the life of this young innocent girl could have been saved.
• A young woman pursuing Masters in Jamia Milia Islamia was waylaid and molested on 22 October, 2009, by a group of school boys while she was returning home from the University. The police was even reluctant to identify the culprits.
• Rape and murder of a 19-year old woman by Pushpam Kumar Sinha, a Ph.D. scholar at IIT Delhi, at Munirka village in New Delhi on 24 October, 2009. This incident happened in the heart of the capital while the country was headed by a woman President and a woman Chief Minister in Delhi. Many women’s groups questioned the statement of the Delhi Police that Pushpam Kumar Sinha was a pervert and a mentally deranged person. In a memorandum submitted to the then President, Pratibha Patil, by combined women’s groups in Manipur stated that “The fact that Pushpam was undergoing his doctoral studies at such a prestigious institute like IIT which only the most brilliant minds of the country can enter, is evidence enough of the fact that Pushpam was an intelligent person with a clear and sound mind. His attempt to pass off the killing as an accident by burning the victim is an action which only an intelligent and sane person could do.” The petition further questioned the statement of Delhi Police as how could a prestigious institute like the IIT which is very strict about allowing admission to only the brightest and most brilliant minds in the country have allowed a “mentally deranged” person like Pushpam to enrol in its doctoral course? The family still awaits justice as hearing continues without any stern penalty for this criminal.
• Gang rape of a 20 year old Delhi University student on May 8, 2005, in Dhaula Kuan in a moving car. She was abducted while walking back home after buying food from a roadside eatery. One of the accused, who was caught, was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment by a city court while the remaining three accused are still absconding.
• Gang rape of a 30 year old BPO employee in November 24, 2010. Five men, intoxicated with liquor, raped the woman for over 40 minutes in a moving vehicle. She was forced into the vehicle near Nanakpura Gurdwara and was later found in a semi-conscious state in Mangolpuri Industrial Estate. It took more than one hour for the police to find her after she dialled ‘100’ and informed the police
Following this incident, women representatives met the CM, Police Commissioner and other concerned authorities and submitted recommendations to the CM including fast tracking of all cases of sexual assault, daily trials instead of extended hearing, stricter advisories for clamping down on vehicles with tinted glasses as well as on tinted glass dealers, GPS tracking systems in public transport and BPO cabs, CCTV for surveillance in public transport, increased publicity, information dissemination about helplines and related services for women in distress, etc.
Demands and call for justice is not a new thing, given that these demands are reiterated every time any crime or sexual assault is meted out to women. Many victims from the Northeast left the city (Delhi), for not having anyone or support groups to turn to. No trauma counselling and no compensation were provided by the state to restore their lives. They came to Delhi with aspirations and dreams and not to be raped but they had to return home humiliated and shattered. Had the state been concerned and the police ensured security and care for women from the Northeast, these victims would have stayed on and continued to fight till they got justice. But having lost faith in the system, they left the capital for home.
Taking some of these painful experiences and challenges into account, the following points need to be looked into seriously (some of these points were submitted to Justice Verma Committee):
(i) All types of sexual offenses and abuses including eve-teasing, touching and showing private parts should be treated as equal to intent to rape and tried in fast track courts.
(ii) Targeting vulnerable SC/ST women from Northeast India with verbal abuses and passing lewd comments must be booked under SC/ST Atrocities Act.
(iii) All Government/private institutions including residential areas should be sensitized to take strict actions on eve-teasing, using of racial slurs, sexual harassment by male staffs/colleagues or whosoever.
(iv) Violence/crime against women should be handled and investigated only by a lady/woman police officer.
(v) Influx of girl children from the Northeast states must be closely watched in railway stations, bus stops, etc., to check trafficking by agencies.
(vi) As per media reports, a number of young girls are found missing and kidnapped every day but no progress of their rescue is made known to the general public through any media. There should be regular reporting of progress by the Delhi Police who are searching for the missing persons.
(vii) The attitude of Delhi Police needs to change. They should stop harassing the victims, especially the Northeast women/girls, whose complaints, many a times, are refused by the Delhi Police in police stations.
(viii) All the police stations, police duty booths and check points in the National Capital Region must be more sensitive, alert and helpful to the Northeast women in times of need.
(ix) While attempts are being made to look into all the pending cases, speedy action must be taken including that of (1) 2005 Dhaula Kuan rape case (2) Rape and murder of 8 years old girl in Mahipalpur in 2009 (3) Gang rape of a 30 year old woman BPO employee in 2010, and (4) other cases related to rape and sexual harassment meted out to Northeast women.
Alana Golmei, General Secretary, North East Helpline, completed her Post Doctoral study under Northeast India Studies Programme, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2011. She is one of the founding members of Northeast Support Centre and Helpline in New Delhi, which was launched in 2007 with the aim to prevent harassment and abuses meted out to women, the North East people and tribal communities in Delhi and NCR.