Nirbhaya’s rape and the brutal attack on her in December 2012, and her death subsequently, shook the conscience of the nation as no similar crime in the recent past had done. It attracted a description that is not often used — bestiality. She was subjected to gang rape, brutalised, thrown out of the bus with no clothes, and left to die.
Miraculously, she lived for a few days to tell the horrific story before she died in a hospital in Singapore.
Rape is not about sex. It is difficult to imagine anyone deriving sexual pleasure by forcing himself upon a woman (who is fighting him with all her strength) or a child. Rape is about the power of the male over the female, in particular over the female body. In the case of rape of a helpless child — barely a few months or a few years old or a minor — one has to look beyond sex and power to understand the self-belief that removes all inhibitions of the criminal.
In nearly all such cases, I think the accused knew that he was committing a crime, but believed that he had power over the victim, that rape was a demonstration of that power, that the law-enforcers will not punish him, and that if they tried to punish him, he would be able to marshal the support of his kinsmen or caste-folk or the police or his party or his government. The last belief has a name — impunity. Gang rape is the ultimate act of impunity.
In Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, the 17-year-old victim was allegedly raped by a public person (a BJP MLA) and his accomplices in June 2017. Two months later, she wrote to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh demanding that an FIR be registered against the MLA and his brother. In April 2018, the victim’s father was allegedly threatened by the MLA to withdraw the case. The father was allegedly picked up by the police and thrashed by the brother of the MLA. The father was sent to judicial custody on April 5 and then to a government hospital. The case came to light on April 8 when the victim and members of her family attempted to immolate themselves outside the residence of the Chief Minister. The next day, the father died at the hospital. On April 10, the brother of the MLA was arrested. The case was handed over to the CBI on April 12. On April 13, the CBI arrested the MLA.
In Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir, the victim was an 8-year old girl from the Bakerwal tribal community. In January 2018, she was allegedly held captive in a temple for a week, sedated, gang raped and killed, intending to terrorise the community to leave the area. The main accused was the caretaker of the temple. Others include two police officers who allegedly took Rs 4 lakh and destroyed crucial evidence. The state police acted promptly and the main accused surrendered in March. The Hindu Ekta Manch (led by a BJP leader) held rallies to demand that the case be transferred to the CBI for a ‘fair’ investigation. Two state ministers belonging to the BJP joined a rally in March. They were forced to resign in April.
The perpetrators of the Unnao and Kathua crimes knew that the criminal justice system had broken down and what little remained could also be broken. That knowledge added to their belief in impunity.
Statements add to the belief in impunity. On the Unnao incident, a fellow MLA said, “Maybe her father was thrashed by some people, but I refuse to believe the rape charge.” Ms Meenakshi Lekhi, MP (spokesperson, BJP), said, “The Congress will first shout ‘minority, minority’, then ‘Dalit, Dalit’, and now ‘women, women’, and then try to somehow fix the blame of state issues on the Centre.”
Silence strengthens the belief in impunity. Despite the uproar over the death of the girl in Kathua and the Unnao incident, the Prime Minister did not utter a word until April 13. There were pro forma statements by BJP functionaries but no expression of contriteness at all. Accusations in both incidents were debunked and deflected by the BJP — blatant politicisation — yet the BJP admonished others not to give political colour to the cases!
The growing violence against women and girl children is alarming, but the belief in impunity that seems to have infected every public functionary is of graver concern:
– Every example of an institution that was captured through partisan and pliant functionaries;
– every instance of a political party forming the state government despite losing the election;
– every absolutely rubbish statement made by a minister with the certitude of a scholar;
– every flight to safety of a fraudster who had looted banks;
– every attempt to buy opponents or muzzle dissent;
– every case prosecuted by the CBI or the NIA that crumbled because multiple witnesses had turned hostile;
– every expose of an agency bending the law to violate the liberty or privacy of a citizen;
– every killing by the police in a fake encounter;
– and every multi-crore rupees suit for defamation and injunction against the media…
…is a step towards enthroning impunity in the place of rule of law.
Unstoppable as it may seem, the duty of this generation is to stop the drift towards the Republic of Impunity.