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The horrendous December 16, 2012, gang rape forced a few changes in an otherwise gender-unfriendly India: We got a new anti-rape law; issues regarding women’s safety became a talking point on public platforms and politicians spoke of the need to make the country safer for women. But that India has still miles to go before it reaches that goal is evident once again from the heart-rending story of two Rohtak girls that was published in a national daily on Wednesday.
Two teenagers, Nikita Duhan and Madhu, committed suicide by poisoning themselves on Monday because they faced relentless stalking by some young men. In the suicide notes they left behind, the two did not mince any words about why they took the drastic step: The men followed them to their coaching institute and back, passed lewd remarks and tried to give them their phone numbers. Sadly, people around them saw this happening every single day but no one came to their rescue; instead, they made the girls feel that they were responsible for such stalking. At home, they got some support, albeit mild: Nikita’s father did try to trace one of the men but never found him. Did he alert the police? No.
It’s not difficult to understand why the two bright young girls, who wanted to go abroad to pursue their careers, decided to end their lives: They did not have any faith that their family, the State apparatus and society would help end their trauma. Instead, the two were acutely aware that if their plight ever became public, they, not the men, would become the object of ridicule and their families would be humiliated. Their cases are not stray ones; there are scores of such cases across the country and most of them go unreported because society is just so unresponsive to such attacks. Moreover, men who indulge in such acts are often emboldened by the fact that many politicians don’t think twice before making irresponsible remarks about sexual attacks, some going to the extent of calling them simple “mistakes”.
If the families of Nikita and Madhu are responsible for not doing enough for their girls, the police and society at large are also equally responsible for failing to stand up for the two. No amount of legal safeguards for women will have an adequate impact as long as there is no strong authority to implement them. And above all, it is important that apart from institutional mechanisms, the police, in many places the first port of call, take the initiative to build trust between them and the people, especially women.