‘Law and order’ are terms and tools that governments often use to exercise control over society. Rape, however, is an area governments in India, have, since its birth as a nation State, been lax in admitting as one of the worst examples of lawlessness.
Consider these ‘law and order’ interventions. It takes 24 years after Independence, with the 42nd Report of the Law Commission in 1971, to take the first step towards evaluation and reform of the rape laws that had remained untouched since the year 1860. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) freely admits to collecting data on rape “since 1971 only”, even as figures throw up startling statistics.
In 1971, there were 2,487 incidents of rape; in 2011, there were 24,206. In other words, rape has increased nine-fold over the past 58 years among major crimes even outstripping murder and rioting, both of which have increased three-fold. According to the 2009 NCRB statistics, the conviction rate in rape is a dismal 27.8% of the 92% of cases charge-sheeted.
Official amnesia on sexual violence since 1947 actually set the terms with which the system has continued its apathy towards gender-specific violence. Till date, there are no official records of the number of women savaged during Partition. It was only with feminist scholars Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence and Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin’s Borders & Boundaries that post-Independence history began to be considered and talked about in gender terms. According to Butalia, about 75,000 women had been abducted and raped by men of other religions “and indeed sometimes by their own”.
These two books also, for the first time, brought to the fore another missing crime — forced repatriation of women, by law (Abducted Persons Act, 1949), to their countries of origin. Films such as Pinjar and Khamosh Paani (2003) also showed the lack of say women have historically had in their own ‘recovery’ and ‘restoration’.
The Mathura rape judgement, in the 80s, was another landmark case that highlighted how a woman’s ‘character’ can be brought into question to diminish her rights.
A tribal girl, Mathura, aged around 14, was raped by two cops inside a police station in 1972. The sessions judge acquitted the accused saying there was “no satisfactory” evidence. Mathura was termed a “shocking liar” who was “habituated to sexual intercourse”. The Supreme Court also acquitted the accused cops by overturning the judgement of the Bombay High Court that had sentenced them. It had contended that since Mathura had put up no struggle, there was no rape.
The law, say activists, has been similarly blind to cases of sexual violence when it concerns victims who are prostitutes, eunuchs, Dalits, Maoists, alleged Maoists, or women from conflict-ridden states like Manipur or Kashmir. The narrow and legal definition of rape, which does not include sexual assault and penetration by a foreign object, has given offenders, at times law-enforcers themselves, the opportunity to escape.
Soni Sori, the teacher from Chhattisgarh who has been sexually tortured in police custody on charges of being a Maoist, has been found with stones in her anal and vaginal cavities. Ankit Garg, the officer, who is said to have supervised her torture, received a gallantry award in 2010 for counterinsurgency operations.
A CounterCurrents report, quoting a study by Doctors Without Borders, reveals that Kashmiri women are among the worst victims of sexual violence in the world, their numbers “around 10,000, has surpassed the figures of Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Chechnya”.
The AFSPA has been invoked to make invisible such crimes by armymen. In 2004, the Badar Payeen rape case in Kashmir, was an instance when a Major from the Rashtriya Rifles, was let off with a court martial by invoking the legal immunity clause under the AFSPA. The victim was a 12-year-old girl.
The rape of the 23-year-old student in Delhi, 2012, and the stand of her friend, begs us not to see her rape in isolation but in the light of sexual, political and economic intimidation of all women wherever they may be.