The Delhi gang rape which made an apathetic nation sit up in shock and horror happened largely because the police did not do their duty of checking a bus where the heinous crime took place while it roamed about the city with impunity. Now they have gone one step better. They not only tried to hush up the rape of a five-year-old girl in Delhi but also thought it fit to bash up women protesters.
If the rapists are brutes then the police are showing that they are not much better in these cases. The child who was brutalised by a man who lived in the same building as her was missing for days and it was not the police but people in the locality who found her. The details of her abuse are so gruesome as to shake even the most hardhearted. Yet, the police chose to act as though this were a matter of no consequence which could be hushed up with a little money and when faced with protest acted as though they were the injured party which had to defend itself.
As always, there is a clamour for stronger laws, for implementing the laws that are already there and for the sacking of erring police officials. The only thing different this time around is that given the extent of outrage over the December gang rape, at least people like the prime minister, the Congress president and the president have wasted no time in expressing their anguish and have called for action. The latest case shows that despite public anger over the December case and the fate of the accused, there really is little respect for women and very little fear of the law. While the police may have acted promptly in apprehending the suspect, they have done little to make life any safer for women all round. The case of the little girl in Aligarh who was raped, murdered and thrown in a garbage dump is proof of this, if any were needed. Once again, the police not only made insensitive comments but also manhandled an elderly woman protester. In an earlier case, the child victim of rape was thrown behind bars by the police in an all-women police station. The gross insensitivity on the part of the police is one part of the problem. It is now clear that we cannot wait for them to function as the true custodians of the law while children and women are at risk. Civil society activists too must go beyond protest and try and organise neighbourhood watch bodies. This way, at least there will be some vigilance when it comes to the safety of women and children.
Of course, ultimately, the responsibility for people’s safety lies with the State. All we can hope is that this ghastly crime will not be hijacked for political mileage and become yet another pawn in the blame game. Already there have been allegations that the opposition is stoking the protest and trying to blame the government. None of this is conducive to ensuring the safety of our children and women. There is no magic wand which will make this go away. But certainly what we need is the certainty and severity of punishment for rapists and molesters. And this process begins at the local police station.