Let the Kathua rape victim be called by her name
A small girl has slipped through the protective arms of the state. Now the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has reminded us that we are not free to identify her by name. This belated sense of duty puzzles me. The girl suffered forced confinement, bestial assault and was finally killed. She was born in a community that enjoys a special status in the Constitution. That provision, however, could not help her in any manner. After being kidnapped, she was alive for a week, but remained untraced. Now the NCPCR is keen to grant her the rights she missed when she was alive.
One of the rights NCPCR wants to give her posthumously is the right to remain unknown, nominally. Hadn’t she already earned it? Anonymity is part of being ordinary, and that is who she was. So, exercising the right to keep her name hidden will pose no problem.
As an organisation set up to protect children and their civic rights, NCPCR has failed to justify its name. If it is closed down, no one will miss it. The finance ministry will be pleased that some wasteful expenditure can be avoided. As a custodian of children’s rights, NCPCR has a noble responsibility which it has forgotten. Its protective umbrella does not reach out to India’s vulnerable children.
After the Kathua incident came to light, the NCPCR chose to blame the media for not following the norms it has laid down. It is the media that turned Kathua into a moment of national introspection. The NCPCR also objected to the girl’s face being shown. Like a part and parcel of bureaucracy, the Commission was more concerned about rules than about the child being violated.
Six years ago, when a young woman was brutalised in a Delhi bus, thousands of young people assembled at Rajpath, protesting against lax laws and policing. The State acted quickly and drafted new, more stringent laws. That young woman was supposed to remain anonymous, but the story of her last-minute fight turned her into a symbol. This suggested that even though they live under constant threat, girls and women need not live a life of fear. Posthumous naming enabled the nation to redeem some of its cultural dignity. The fact that girls must always live in fear, and do, remained concealed like a precious secret that we couldn’t afford to make public. It would have hurt national pride just as the banned BBC documentary Daughters of India did.
Now we are faced by Kathua. This is not the first time that a child has suffered at the hands of men determined and free to be barbaric. If you look at newspapers of the past few years, you will find reports about victims as young as three to six years of age. During a spate of such incidents, a judge had asked, ‘Have our people gone mad?’ What distinguishes Kathua is the political environment surrounding it. The same is true of Unnao. As common citizens, we need not feel aghast at the political response, its initial inertia and subsequent speedy recovery of familiar reflexes. In the end, it sounds inane and cold. Between shaming and defence, there is plenty to stage and prolong the debate. It is not clear though that anyone knows what the debate is about.
Is it about inadequate policing? Is it about the state’s reflexes? Or, about the state’s Constitutional role to intervene in culture through social policy laws and their implementation? Any debate on Kathua must cover all these questions. If there is widespread misogyny in society, who will address it and how? Cultural characteristics tend to reproduce themselves. So does misogyny. What can intercept the reproductive cycle of a deep-set tendency like that? The Constitution mandated the state to engage with society and culture. But the Constitution seems like a lonely voice today. In Kathua, the state has failed the Constitution. A Scheduled Tribe girl’s right to grow up with dignity and receive education has been violated. The least we can do now is to remember her by name rather than call her the eight-year old gang-rape victim of Kathua as the NCPCR desires.
Krishna Kumar is former director, NCERT
The views expressed are personal