For victims of sexual violence, coming to terms with the incident is always a traumatic emotional and physical challenge. But that effort is made infinitely more difficult by the State, society and publicity-hungry politicians.
Take for example, the recent case of the Bulandshahr gang rape victims: The family said that it is becoming impossible for them to stay in their house thanks to visits by politicians, the media, their relatives and the local people.
The victims, reports added, are even finding it difficult to take time out to meet the two female counsellors assigned to them by the Uttar Pradesh government, in accordance with rules that mandate counselling for rape victims, especially minors.
“The first thing a rape victim needs is counselling. The counsellors barely manage to talk to her for an hour a day. They haven’t talked about the incident at all. They have built a friendship with the girl, though, and this is the only way to help her come out of the trauma,” one of the counsellors told HT.
Advocate Shilpi Jain told HT this invasion of privacy also makes a mockery of the law protecting the identity of a rape victim. “The law was made to protect the victim from mental agony and the torture of recalling the episode repeatedly. But the moment the media and politicians land up, everyone knows who has been raped and the locals start talking.”
And then there are leaders like Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan.
When a group of BJP leaders went to meet the family (also not entirely an apolitical visit, considering the assembly elections are next year), Khan suggested the incident to be an “opposition conspiracy”.
“We need to investigate whether this is a conspiracy by opponents who want to defame the government,” said the formidable SP leader.
After initial political and media frenzy, however, everyone loses interest in such cases, leaving the victims to the mercy of the police and a byzantine legal system.
Remember the Simbhaoli rape case?
A 28-year-old Muslim woman was gang raped by two local residents of Simbhaoli of Hapur district in December 2015.
The case got a lot of traction when the village elders ordered the victim to drop the case after getting a compensation of Rs 50,000 from the culprits.
The media got to know about the case and the police were eventually forced to lodge an FIR and arrest the duo.
But today, the woman has no one to turn to: The case is in the court and she has been ostracised by the local community. She has not even managed a ration card because influential elders in the village don’t cooperate. And to top it all, she has no job and a family of four to look after.
Even at the risk of sounding pessimistic, the same fate could befall the Bulandshahr victims.
This is because other than pious (but follow) words, there is no concerted effort to remove the stigma of rape and a State-mandated support structure that can provide rape victims with legal, financial and psychological support.