The Indian justice system is remarkably slow when it comes to issues of sexual assault – as point underlined after the rape of an eight-month-old child
When Swati Maliwal, the chief of the Delhi Commission of Women (DCW), decided to launch a Rape Roko movement in Delhi on January 31, following the rape of an eight-month-old baby, I joined a stream of NRIs from the US and Canada, in the campaign.
We wanted the Indian government into taking steps to address rapes of babies. Like Swati, we wanted justice in clear cases to be delivered within six months for babies besides demanding the capital punishment for rapists,
Crimes against women and children have been a sensitive subject for me, because I, too, have been fighting a molestation case for the last 10 years in India.Like others, I have experienced first-hand the insensitivity of the Indian justice system is to attacks on women and children, however heinous the crimes be.
Despite being a journalist, I was not spared the ordeal of first struggling to file a case, for which there was absolute reluctance on the part of the police, a perfunctory investigation, a decade-long wait as the trial wound through at a snail’s pace through its various stages, while the accused could file petition upon petition to further delay the matter. This, despite top police officials being involved in the process. The case has been especially frustrating one to pursue since, as a US resident, I struggled to make myself available for court dates in India.
This brings into focus how traumatic it is for the rape victims to pursue cases in India, something that Swati intends to change by refusing to be bogged down in the swamp of silence surrounding the subject of rape, by getting all stakeholders in one place and get a conversation started, and by pressing for deterrent measures to be taken as soon as possible, all this in an effort to overhaul the entire system dealing with sexual exploitation.
One of the first steps she took as part of the Rape Roko movement, was to send a list of her demands to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). She also started a campaign to collect a million signatures, protesting against the rape, and a missed call campaign, again to raise awareness. Volunteers from many educational institutes in Delhi have joined her in the campaign. She has also started a silent satyagraha since January 31, refusing to go home, working and sleeping in her office, even as thousands of volunteers and rape victims drop in to visit her. The satyagraha comes to an end March 8, International Women’s Day, when she will address a public meeting in Delhi where several thousand are expected to attend.
She believes that unless there is certainty and swiftness of punishment, things won’t change.
“Crimes are being committed with so much impunity because there is no fear anymore,” she said. “These rapists live a normal life, on bail, while the victim continues to be raped by the system, over the next 16 years as she fights for justice. At least babies should be spared this ordeal.”
“After the rape of the eight-month-old baby, whose cries still ring in my ears, I do not want to simply turn the page and move on. I would rather that there be a comma here, so I can focus and ensure that she gets justice. I have now made it a life goal to ensure that no child is ever raped in any part of the country”, she says.
Besides the democratic processes involved in tackling the cases, it is important that people now take to the streets.
As Swatri put it, “In the case of the rape of seven-year-old Zainab in Pakistan, it is people who came onto the streets in large numbers, and the Pakistan courts were forced to sentence the rapists to multiple death sentences within a month of the crime. If Pakistan can do it, why not us?”
In Delhi, which has over the years become the rape capital of the world, crimes against women and children between 2012 and 2014 stood at 31,446. But there were only 150 convictions.
DCW was a toothless tiger, where women politicians were shunted to by the ruling party of the day. The last commissioner of DCW before Swati, Barkha Singh, who held the position for nine years, solved only one case in that time.
Just in six months in 2016, the DCW under Swati has already overseen 11,696 cases, attended to 316 thousand distress calls on the 181 helpline, conducted 7,500 grass roots visit, attended 5500 court cases, counselled 1869 sexual assault victims and made 55 recommendations for women’s safety to the government, in just two years.
It is time it got some support.
[Vijaylakshmi Nadar is an independent journalist and has worked with several publications in Mumbai including The Pioneer, Afternoon, The Daily, Free Press group, and Life Positive, in India. She also is a political activist supporting AAP].
[The opinion expressed in this piece are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of indica].