India: Amidst Rape Pandemic, female empowerment a lost cause, and victim rehab of scant concern Print E-mail

 Wednesday September 4 2013

Rape victims ­ from anonymity to non-entity

By Vandana Shukla
A rape victim shares her woes with the media at Hisar, Haryana

While the judiciary is trying to bring about changes at the macro level to prosecute culprits in rape cases, victims are facing social ostracism at the village level ­ even schools shut doors on them

In the early 60s when contraceptives were introduced the world over, it was believed they will release women from the burden of biology ­ of the cyclical reproduction. In all developing societies, contraceptives improved women's participation in the mainstream economic activity. Their financial assets, body mass index, and their children's schooling and health improved. By and large all societies welcomed women’s empowerment because it raised the family's standard of living.

The rising graph of crimes against women in India, seems to undo it all. Women are dragged back to be a mere biological entity by rapists and molesters, who are not always the goons prowling around the dark, unsafe alleys and lanes for their prey, they also happen to be the ones who are supposed to offer a sense of security and support social growth of women ­ the policemen, teachers, neighbours, colleagues and even family members.

Thanks to these crimes, and the audacious ability of the culprits to evade punishment, the entire focus of women's issues is now limited to their safety, instead of their economic empowerment and better education and health care. Though, social research is not a strong point of the Indian academics, it would be interesting to know what happened to the index of women's development while the crime graph against them has been growing phenomenally? Are more women joining the work force, what has happened to the school drop out rate of young girls, are other parameters of their growth affected by these crimes? Both yes and no would offer interesting insights.

Protesting women at Jind, Haryana, after a Dalit girl’s alleged rape and murder in August.

Propagating victimhood
The underlying fact working behind the assault on the body of a woman is, an assault on the entire trajectory of women’s emancipation. Girls have been outshining boys in almost all school results. In metros and cities, when good- for- nothing young men watch empowered women walk past them in the fast lane of life with their enviable social position, the sexual assault becomes a way of avenging their own failure. These men had been made to believe by fading patriarchy that the jobs and positions, now usurped by women, were their birth right. By molesting or raping women, they are righting a wrong, teaching them a lesson for usurping what was theirs ­in their belief.

Therefore, the repercussion of a rape or molestation does not end at the so-called justice. Culprits are sent behind bars, if at all, the social trials of the victim begin with the reporting of the case. Not much has changed on this front, despite several reforms in the legal structure. Ruchika Girhotra was not alone. Lives of scores of girls are interrupted in more than one ways. The crime results in exactly what the rapists and molesters would want; sending women back to their safety zone, not venturing out into domains underlined by men as their rightful asset.

We have no data on the number of girls withdrawn from school or work after molestation or rape, in the absence of a well-coordinated rehabilitation plan between schools, hospitals and police stations. The mind-numbing numbers of rape cases still pending in the courts have put an unimaginable number of victims’lives in jeopardy. No one has a clue about what happens to the education of the young victims after the crime is reported. The social reality being what it is, which treats a victim of rape as a social outcast.

Need social reform
Young victims find themselves moving from well-meaning anonymity to be turned into nonentities at the behest of social ostracism. Schools shut doors on them, calling them bad influence for other children.

How do they pursue their journey to empowerment, if their education is stopped midway? Even in the absence of an official data, a few cases from Haryana offer a trend, which is, to say the least, is alarming.

In May this year, a 9th grade girl was raped by her teacher in Farain Kalan village of Jind district. The horror and humiliation of the rape apart, even though the law took its course ­ the accused teacher Rajinder Singh was terminated from service and was sent to jail on a charge of rape. But, the girl has not been able to resume her studies. An NGO involved in the case has been made to run between offices of the police, administration and the department of women and child development, but none is able to help the girl resume her education. As a result of humiliation of rape, the girl's younger sister too has been withdrawn from school, a 4th grade student. The minor's mother is a widow, and though the villagers had locked up the school demanding removal of the accused teacher, the same villagers are not forthcoming for thr rehabilitation of the girl.

More laws, less justice

More than the laws what the victims of rape need is; social empathy and acceptance. Even after the law has punished the guilty, the rape victim is continued to be treated as a culprit. This results in inadvertently justifying the rapist's motive ­ who succeeds in demoralising a young woman from her pursuit of empowerment.

In Nilokheri tehsil, a 16-year-old school going Dalit girl was gang-raped on August 6, 2012, her mother was murdered for lodging an FIR against the accused. In Haryana, it is common to see that the victim of rape is ostracised socially and forced to either leave the village or strike a compromise with the accused who are protected by the khap panchayats and the police, since both are controlled by the high castes. In cases after cases, even families of the victim get divided, close relatives pressurise the victim to respect the diktat and the might of the khaps. The victimised girl now wishes to pursue her education, but her village school has shunned her on strong caste lines.

Journeys cut short
A mere 13-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by a 60-year-old fruit vendor in Khai village of Fatehabad district for over four months, the girl and her two younger sisters were expelled from the government school hours after the rapist was arrested in Oct, 2012. The plea given by the school administration was; the girls will be subjected to taunts from other students. Before the culprit was arrested, the sarpanch of the village offered Rs 35,000 to the victim's father to hush up the case. It reflects the mind- set of people who are controlling different segments of society, and are supposed to play a supportive role for women's empowerment.

Social ostracism is a carry forward ­ from mother to children. In June 20, 2008, when a 34-yerar-old woman was gangraped in Samalkha village of Panipat, the family did not know how far the repercussions would reach. The couple, tired of the apathy of the system that refused to catch the culprits, threatened to commit suicide in front of the office of the then Rohtak Inspector General of Police, and did so. The victim died, but her husband survived, who was put behind bars under the law for murdering the victim. While the nightmares of the family do not seem to end, of the five accused, only one was arrested, the trial is still pending in a court in Panipat. The worst victims of this legal and social apathy are the children of the victim, whose only dream is to somehow go to a school, as they used to before their mother was raped. They are aged 12 and 11.

For whose benefit the law
If you recall the Bhanwri Devi gangrape case, 1992, which led to major amendments in the laws dealing with protection of women against sexual harassment at work place known as Vishakaha judgement, Bhanwari was a saathin, a grassroot worker employed by Women's Development Project. As an empowered saathin, Bhanwri, a dalit, resisted a child marriage organised by a Gujjar family. She was gangraped, the rape case became a gujjar versus kumhar caste battle at all levels of justice delivery system in Rajasthan. Her medical examination was conducted 52 hours after the rape, two years later the trial began in a lower court, five judges were inexplicably changed, the sixth found the accused not guilty in 1995. At the police station, Bhanwari was asked to deposit her lehanga (long skirt) as evidence. She had to cover herself with her husband's blood-stained saafa (turban) and walk 3 km. to the nearest saathin's village, at about 1 am in the morning. Bhanwri was alienated, despite amendments in the law, her honour was not restored. Her humiliation was a lesson for other women's pursuit of emancipation.

That was in 1992. In the Nilokheri tehsil case mentioned above, the police had asked the minor Dalit girl, the victim, to wash her clothes which resulted in loss of evidence. This was 2012, after several legal amendments. In the Panipat woman gangrape case, the police was found guilty of keeping the suicide note and dumping the forensic examination report in the police station's malkhana ( store) for over two years. They did not put the suicide note in the trial of her husband, which led to his imprisonment and loss of the trial for rape of his wife.

Almost everyday a major court verdict brings a case of sexual crime against women into limelight. At the macro level, changes are taking place. Their implementation requires a lot of groundwork at the local police thana level, where the cases are registered and charges framed. Here, at this level, not the law but all other social factors come into play ­ from caste hierarchy to political positioning of the caste to patriarchal values. Here, a woman being raped is seen as a man's, or, his caste's authority being challenged. The woman is inconsequential in this parlance. Hence, her rehabilitation too is of little consequence. And her empowerment is best forgotten.

Justice in a vacuum

  • In 24 High Courts, posts of 275 judges are vacant
  • ALLAHABAD HC : Rape cases pending ­ 8,200 ; vacancies of judges ­ 68
  • MP HC : Rape cases pending ­ 3,800 ; vacancies of judges ­ 10
  • PUNJAB & HARYANA HC : Rape cases pending ­ 2,700 ; vacancies of judges ­ 21
  • CHHATTISGARH HC : Rape cases pending ­ 1,500 ; vacancies of judges ­ 8