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Conscience has made us cowards!

Published : Sunday, 8 December, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 278

Nazarul Islam

Nazarul Islam

Tragic stories never die. Gang-rape and murder of a twenty seven year old, veterinary doctor in Hyderabad (Deccan) has underscored yet again--the extreme vulnerability of women and girls, even in supposedly 'safe' zones in our innumerable, towns and cities. The Gachibowli-Shamshabad stretch where the horrific crime took place has been declared a 'safe corridor' by the Telengana government.
It was on this safe stretch that the victim was raped, suffocated to death and then set ablaze by her four assailants in a bid to destroy evidence.

The unfortunate female victim, was heading home after a hard day's work. As distressing as the meticulous and systematic manner, in which her four assailants plotted and carried out her rape and murder was, what had followed. As has happened in countless other rape cases, police had again failed to act swiftly on the family's complaint citing jurisdictional reasons; they were more preoccupied with questioning the victim's character than rushing to locate and rescue her. Her motives in calling her sister and not the police were questioned by a Telangana minister.

Surprised? Not so much!
Unspeakable violence of the kind that took place in Hyderabad on the night of November 27-28 is routinely unleashed against women, young girls and even little children across the country. On November 30, a six-year-old girl returning home from school was raped and killed in Rajasthan. Last week, a 25-year-old law student was gang-raped by 12 men in a 'high security' area of Ranchi, in the state of Bihar. If this is the state of affairs in so-called 'safe areas' of urban India, one shudders to think what must be happening in rural and remote areas.

Seven years after the gang-rape and murder of 'Nirbhaya' in New Delhi had triggered a tidal wave of public outrage, little seems to have changed to make our schools, workplaces, public transport, roads, even homes safe for women and girls. Although tough laws and stringent punishment were put in place, these are not being implemented or have not served to deter predatory behaviour.

Nirbhaya's brutal rape has shocked India and the world. Still, the patriarchal foundations of our societies in all countries of the subcontinent, remain intact; misogynist mindsets are widespread. Consequently, many justify sexual assault as a means to teach 'arrogant' women a lesson. Traditionally, the Police and society-both have continued to blame the victim.

'Why was she out at night? Why was she alone? Then, She has only got what she asked for,' has been a refrain we hear often. Unless all countries of the subcontinent, including India implement a comprehensive strategy to address misogyny through school curricula, media, training, etc, attempts to prevent sexual violence in the region, will remain elusive and ineffective. Can all this, and better policing, really make Pakistan or Bangladesh or India, safe for women.
NS belongs to a generation of young, thinking Indians, who care deeply about what's happening in the rising India. She and her eight classmates are a mini India in themselves. Apart from NS, there's RM from Chennai, SD from Kolkata, SR from Bilaspur in Chhatisgarh, NT from Mumbai, PB from Faridabad near Haryana and three 'local' Bengalurians-SR, HP and DP. Am I forgetting Sohana's pain, and extreme shock, far away in the city of Barishal, Bangladesh. In a dusty town of Kot Addu, located in the deserts of Pakistan's Punjab, Salima Bibi weeps to hear the story on television.

This painful episode has united the people of war mongering nations, spread across our planet's bad neighbourhood.

All these young people are, like the rest of us, equally appalled, anguished and angered by the horrific rape and murder in Hyderabad. They cannot wrap their heads around the inhuman acts committed upon a young woman who happened to be out late at night, on work. 'Why are women and girls treated in this manner in India? Why did four seemingly ordinary-looking young men do this?' The painful saga has unfolded further. And, there are questions seared into everyone's minds. SD, one of the two boys in this nine-member group, called up his mother. 'I told her not to go out, ever,' he said.

For these conscientious students, it is also the callousness of the media coverage that is equally horrifying. The lack of ethics, was one thing. And, the manner in which local and national television channels repeatedly played CCTV clips of the young woman, happened to be another. Or, the manner in which they have systematically stripped away her dignity and unveiled her identity. Under law, the name of a rape survivor/victim should not be disclosed in India. But now, we have all come to know the name and ID of the rape victim from Hyderabad. We've all seen what she looked like and we know as well, where her family resides.

There is competition in media broadcast, and a race to claim to be the first channel to break (cash in) the news story. In fact, some students have also alerted others to something even more gruesome and heartbreaking--0the girl's name, and the 'rape video' are the most searched 'words' typed across the search engines. 'What does that say about the Indians,' asks conscientious RM, the Chennaiites.
Well...over time, nothing has changed!

Only instances and incidents that are so extremely horrifying, which go 'viral'. For that is what had happened seven years ago, when another unspeakably brutal assault and murder had taken place in Delhi. At that time, it had seemed to shake our collective conscience. The young woman who had experienced those unimaginable horrors, was even hailed in the media as 'fearless' because she had somehow clung to life. But she had eventually lost that battle and could not overcome the savagery that had been inflicted upon her.

Again, there was that public outrage, followed by vigils and protests. The laws will be changed, all were assured. There will be stringent punishment and justice will be swifter, all were promised.
'But the punishment is not enough, justice is not swift enough', points out HP, one of the three Bengalurians.

The fact that so many pending cases exist in the country's courts, has been the rebuttal to her impassioned statement. The data available is stark: According to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (the 2017 report was released in October 2019, two years late) there were 32,559 cases of rape reported in the country. In accordance with the report--conviction rate for rape cases in 2017 was a paltry 32.2%. Shocking, indeed!

Decisive action, only sometimes reflect the accurate data, and HP had observed that paradoxically, not everything has moved slowly in this country. 'Overnight, the government implemented demonetisation. Overnight, the government downgraded an entire state into a union territory. And when the nation lost soldiers in a terrorist attack, India launched a surgical strike within mere seven days. We need to safeguard and honour our fallen soldiers, but don't India's women and children also need similar protection? Each one of us, regardless of which caste or ethnicity, we belong, want to know the answer!
As HP pointed out, decisive action is the need of the hour. The anti-rape laws are clearly no deterrent.

But one law is being enthusiastically implemented in the country. For instance, Madhya Pradesh (5599 rape cases) and Uttar Pradesh (4669 rape cases) are invoking the National Security Act (NSA) in cases related to cow slaughter. And, other states may soon follow.
India's Women today may be levelled with cattle, and farm animals. Tomorrow, the sun will rise again in the land, where women will get the sanctuary and safety, they always deserved!

The writer is a former educator based in Chicago

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