When the religion of the perpetrators becomes more important than the crime of rape itself, then you know you are witnessing a civilisational breakdown.
To find evidence of the epidemic of violence against young girls and women gripping India, you have only to flick through your newspaper.
In the recent past: Two minor sisters, 13 and 15, gang-raped at gunpoint in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh (UP). In Singrauli district, Madhya Pradesh, an eight-year-old gang-raped by two boys aged 15 and 16. Also in Madhya Pradesh, near Bhopal, a 10-year-old girl first murdered, then raped and sodomised.
These are a fraction of the horror stories in a country where, according to National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016, not updated since, 19,764 rape cases were registered — an 82% jump in rape cases from the preceding year, with the worst rise in UP where figures have trebled. These are, of course, reported cases in a country where, according to Mint, 99% of sexual assault goes unreported.
The welcome judgment in the Kathua case — in which an eight-year-old girl was in January last year abducted, raped and then murdered in order to intimidate her community of nomadic shepherds — should have been the occasion to talk about this epidemic and figure out a way to end it.
Instead, we are seeing ugly politics.
During the December 2012 protest, nobody inquired about the religion of the six men who had raped and murdered the medical student.
A measure of just how far we’ve fallen can be seen in our journey of six years when the Hindu Ekta Manch in Kathua marched not for the victim, but her rapists and killers. Bharatiya Janata Party state ministers, since sacked, spoke for the men. And lawyers physically barred the crime branch police from filing a charge-sheet. The Supreme Court was forced to order the trial to be moved to Punjab.
This communalisation of rape has been extended to Aligarh where we are hearing sickening details of the murder of a two-year-old girl by Muslim men. Those who are asking liberals who spoke for the Kathua victim seem to ignore the fact that (a) not one person is defending these monstrous men and (b) their own silence on other brutal rapes of children at around the same time make them complicit in communalising child rape.
When the religion of the perpetrators becomes more important than the crime itself, you know that you are witnessing a civilisational breakdown.
The Kathua judgment is an opportunity to retrace our lost steps and think about next ones. Since 2012, we have tinkered with the law to no avail.
We need fresh thinking. Perhaps we need an empowerment commission that calls for ideas from all sections of society. Definitely we need to rehaul our education system to include concepts of consent and respect. And it might not be out place to expand the scope of Beti Bachao, by heightening spending on ground activism.
There is something deeply rotten in India. Unless we put the politics behind us, we cannot begin to set it right.
This column first appeared in Hindustan Times on June 14, 2019