The central government, On Saturday, passed an ordinance that allows stringent punishments for sexual violence against children, including the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years. Minimum prison sentences for rape against girls under the age of 16 and women have also been raised. The government has also laid down measures for speedy investigation of rape, stipulating that probes have to be completed within two months. The stringent punishment for rapists came after details emerged of the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in a Hindu-dominated area of Jammu and Kashmir. Local leaders and ministers of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) publicly offered support to the men accused, adding to the public disgust. During the same time the details about the rape of a 16-year-old girl by a BJP lawmaker in Utter Pradesh became public triggering nationwide outrage and protests. More recently, a sexual attack on an 11-year-old girl was reported in Prime Minister Narednra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The post-mortem revealed the girl had been tortured, raped, strangled and smothered. Initially Modi maintained silence which fuelled criticism that his government was not doing enough to protect the women. The criticism was not misplaced as the BJP leaders and ministers publicly supported the rape-accused in Kathua case. And in UP case a BJP leader was directly involved. This made Indian government butt of international condemnation. This serious-most embarrassment came from International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, who described the rape and murder of Kathua girl as “revolting” and asked that the Indian authorities, starting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would pay more attention to such grave issues. With a general election due next year, Modi moved swiftly to remedy that negative perception by holding the emergency cabinet meeting as soon as he returned on Saturday morning from an official visit to Europe. But the question that haunts the minds is can a mere law stop excesses against women?
At least, five more incidents of rape have been reported from BJP-ruled states, UP and Haryana since the inclusion of stringent provisions in the rape law. The most gruesome of these incidents is the rape of yet another 13-year old Muslim girl in BJP-ruled Harayana. The girl was sleeping with her siblings at home (girls parents were not at home) when four Hindu men barged in and kidnapped her on Suday. The men took the girl to a temple nearby and allegedly gang-raped her. They smashed her head on the wall before fleeing. Neighbours found the unconscious girl in the temple premises. The same day, three girls were raped and four minors were sexually assaulted in separate incidents in Uttar Pradesh. Three cases were reported in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur, Amroha and Kannauj districts and a fourth one was reported in Muzaffarnagar. In Rampur and Amroha, the accused were juveniles, between 11 and 12 years. This makes it abundantly clear that the problem is not with the law but in the system. Before the Saturday amendment, the anti-rape law had enough provisions to work as a deterrent. There are agencies to enforce the law and order. What is needed only is the mandate of the government to ensure these agencies work, which is not there. Government seems unwilling to act against the rapists. There are 14 ministers in the union cabinet who are facing criminal charges including rape in one or the other court in the country. Nihalchand Meghwal—accused in a rape case in Rajasthan—was the first to get a berth in Prime Minister Modi’s council of ministers. Rajasthan police reported him “missing” when the trial court summoned him for appearance. He dropped from the council of ministers months later after national uproar. Prime Minister Modi condemned the rapes only after they had generated international headlines. When he did so, his words were vague and tinged with the patriarchal attitude that “Our daughters will get justice.” Now listen to what Union minister Santosh Gangwar says: In a nation as big as India, one or two incidents of rape should not be hyped. This is complete collapse of humanity in the country’s political and social order. No law, howsoever harsh it could be, can stop crimes with such people in the offices of authority. There is need for change in the societal mindset to restore the dignity of women, and the political class in the position of authority need to told loudly and clearly that immoral corrupt minds are not tolerable in any way.