Kathua rape and murder case: The perversity of labelling the eight-year-old victim as 'the new Nirbhaya'
The 8-year-old victim of rape and murder in Kathua is not the new Nirbhaya, because there should be no Nirbhaya. Let’s never forget that.
As India slowly wakes up to the horrors that were inflicted on an eight-year-old girl in January, collective outrage is gathering steam. New hashtags are trending every day. Horrifying details about the crime are emerging to shake us out of our consciousness. Armchair activists are leading the shout to get justice for the child.
Rightly so. It is impossible not to be moved to tears after reading the terrible details about the Kathua rape case. From being drugged, to being gangraped by men who wanted to ‘satisfy their lust’, to being strangled and bludgeoned to death in two horrific attempts, to her tiny withered body being dumped in a forest, the child was treated to inhumanity that is unimaginable. Like many others, I am also walking through my days unable to shake off her brutalised face. How can our nation produce such depraved souls? And how can they be protected under the guise of religion and nationalism? How did we go from #BetiBachao to #BalatkariKoBachao? Today, we are seeing the true face of India and it is ugly.
But what is even more disgusting is to call the little girl 'the new Nirbhaya'. Why? Because it shows us that we haven’t learnt our lesson. We haven’t had enough. We haven’t changed. When we call another rape victim by the name of India’s most brutalised rape victim, it shows us that we’ve made peace with the brutality of rape and with what happens to its victims. How can we reduce the victim of rape to a moniker?
When the Supreme Court awarded a well-deserved death sentence to the four convicts who brutally raped, mutilated and murdered 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey, we called it a ‘day of victory’ for India. The death sentence was supposed to send a strong message to rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence. It was supposed to stop them from committing further heinous crimes. It was supposed to set a precedent for India. It was supposed to demonstrate that India could protect its sisters, daughters and mothers in a dignified and fair manner. It was supposed to be the beginning of justice, equality and safety to all the women in our country.
But, did it? Look at where we are now. Back to square one. Where is the change? There is none. It would appear that Jyoti Singh’s verdict has taught us nothing. Our candle marches, our protests, our outrage, has come to nothing. The relentless work of selfless activists, lawyers, citizens, and NGOs, who fought long and hard to ensure justice, has meant nothing.
Because today we are still seeing incidents like Kathua and Unnao. We are still reading about horrific cases like Rohtak, Jisha, Bilkis Bano, among many others.
Because we really haven’t had enough, have we?
We read incidents of rape every single day; obviously because a woman is raped every 20 minutes in our country. Yet, we react only when the rape is grossly heinous. Our anger is as cheap as our lives. As a nation, we’ve become desensitised to rape. We still need gross human violations to have our collective conscience shaken. We still need brutality to be inhumane for us to realise our humanity. We quantify rape as ‘good rape’ and ‘bad rape’ and make time only for the rarest of rare cases and the most brutal of brutal crimes. We forget that rape is rape, and should be met with revolt, no matter what the severity.
In Saudi Arabia, they behead men for rape. In China, they castrate men. In North Korea, it’s the firing squad. And we — the rape capital of the world — just seem to love our rapists. We are lenient with the way we punish them. Our great ‘Anti Rape Bill’ requires proving offense beyond a reasonable doubt, while giving the accused the benefit of doubt. We do not have effective laws; they exist but are not implemented, like the POCSO Act. We have a low rate of conviction. We do not use stringent punishment. We even fight against capital punishment for men who treat the lives of women as flimsy. We do not use fast track courts. We have only one judge for every one lakh people. Our schemes help women in distress after the crime is over, not to prevent crime. Knowing all this, the rapists take a chance. They continue raping, because they know there’s a bigger probability that they’ll walk away scot-free than be indicted. If there’s no punishment to a crime, why will the criminal stop?
More so, we glorify rapists by saying ‘boys will be boys’. When Mulayam Singh Yadav says ‘boys make mistakes’, when Abu Azmi says ‘even women are guilty (of being raped)’, when ML Sharma says ‘there is no place for women in our culture’, we make them household names instead of punishing them for incitation. We normalise rape in our culture. Bade bade deshon mein aaisi choti choti baatein ... hoti rehti hai, right?
This subversion is demonstrative in the new video by The Quint where we see the cavalier attitude of men and women, boys and girls, about rape. From saying it is consensual to saying ‘ek haath se taali nahin bajti’ to saying that girls are responsible for getting raped, it shows us the pervasive attitude in Haryana about rape. We’ve made it a ‘culture’. And, no. This is not about Haryana. Or Uttar Pradesh or Jammu and Kashmir. This is not about Hindu rape or Muslim rape. This is not even about the BJP or Congress. This is about what we've become. Nothing but animals. Because we continue to make women the repositories of shame in these matters. Because it is women who remain victims even after so-called justice has been delivered. Because the extent of violence and inhumanity of sexual assaults against women is not only continuing, it is increasing.
So what about Nirbhaya is there to really be proud of? Yes, the December 2012 case was considered a landmark verdict, the second of its kind in India after the Shakti Mills gangrape case. Yes, it provided retribution not just to the rape victim but also to our nation’s outraged citizens. Yet, one of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s rapists, the juvenile who allegedly inflicted the most serious wounds, is now free. We haven’t even put to use the Rs 3,000-crore Nirbhaya Fund to improve the safety and dignity of our women. Isn’t justice delayed, justice denied? Clearly not enough has been done in the case for us to nonchalantly evoke 'Nirbhaya' again.
'Nirbhaya' means fearless. The only people who were fearless in the Kathua case were the perpetrators — the rapists who did the crime and the police who covered up the crime. How can we equate the two? 'Nirbhaya' evokes dignity, at least in death if not in life. Let’s give the eight-year-old girl that, in death if not in life, before we call her 'another Nirbhaya'. Let's scream and shout and protest until we get justice for her. Let’s do that before we become dead as human beings. Let's do it before we fail all the women in our country.
The Kathua victim is not 'the new Nirbhaya', because there should be no 'Nirbhaya'. Let’s never forget that.
The writer is an award-winning author, columnist, feminist and TEDx Speaker. She tweets @MeghnaPant
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