The sharp contrast between public outrage and institutional mechanisms when it comes to crimes like rape was nowhere more evident than in the case of the 10-year-old victim from Bulandshahr. When the mother of the child, allegedly raped by an upper caste man, took courage into her hands and went to the police station to report the crime, the traumatised child was locked up. This was in an all-women police station. The Supreme Court has taken suo motu cognisance of media reports on this issue and has sent a notice to the state government. Despite the public outrage after the Delhi gang rape, it is clear that things on the ground have not really changed for victims of rape.
The plight of sexually abused children is by far the most heart-rending. Incidents of sexual violence against children seem to be on the rise. In recent times, just before the Bulandshahr episode, a 45-year-old businessman was arrested for raping his 16-year-old daughter in Gurgaon. In Karnal, a father has been arrested for raping two of his minor daughters. This proves that stringent laws alone cannot be effective. The first port of call for a victim is the police. It is here that both sensitivity and speed in gathering evidence are essential. In cases of rape, medical evidence has to be recorded within 24 hours. In the case of children, it is absolutely vital that the child is not traumatised any further. Unfortunately, class, caste and socio-economic factors work against victims in many police stations. There is a great deal of social stigma attached to rape. It is the duty of the law to see that this does not deter victims from registering their complaints.
Along with strengthening laws, the police have to be taught to be more sensitive in the cases of child rape victims. The child’s testimony must be recorded in a conducive environment and she should not have to face her attacker unless absolutely necessary. Children of such abuses need long-term counselling. Unfortunately, in our conservative society, abuse at home by a father or male relative is often covered up to protect the family’s honour. The February report by Human Rights Watch titled ‘Breaking the Silence: Child Sex Abuse in India’ highlights how the government’s response to children who are sexually abused fails to protect the victims. In the Bulandshahr case, it is absolutely vital that the police persons who thought it fit to lock up the victim be bought to book. After the Delhi gang rape, there was a huge momentum for change. There cannot be such a glaring disconnect between public sentiment and police conduct.
Otherwise the gains made in the form of stronger laws will not really amount to either preventing rapes of children or minimising the trauma of child victims.