Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar may have been right when he said he would âresign a 1,000 times if that would prevent rapesâ. The prevention of rape may not always be in his hands. But the response to it certainly is. He â and his peers in the system â have to square up to that.
IT IS crucial to drive home at each juncture of this story that more than anything else, it is families and parents who are failing Indiaâs children the most. Apart from being the main perpetrators themselves, the violence of silence is all-pervasive. It is imperative to break this silence.
Harish Iyer, 32, an equal rights activist, believes he was âset freeâ when his best friend told his entire college that he was being abused. Iyer, the son of a well-to-do businessman and a homemaker, was raped regularly between the ages of seven to 18 by an uncle close to the family. âThe first time he raped me, he forced my mouth on to his penis. If I tried to scream, he would choke me harder,â says Iyer. Soon after, when Iyerâs aunt was away, his uncle crawled into bed with him and sodomised him. âEvery time I tried to scream or protest, he would hurt me more. I learnt the easiest way to make it end was to just stay quiet. After a point, whenever he entered my room, I would just take my clothes off, lie down and wait for it to be over.â
Iyerâs mother, who told her friends that her increasingly reticent son was âjust differentâ from other kids, could never fully comprehend what her son meant when he told her he disliked his uncle. On the sole occasion Iyer, terrified and filled with shame, told her he was bleeding, she told him he was âprobably eating too many mangoesâ.
Over the 11 years that he abused him, Iyerâs uncle devised newer and increasingly more sadistic methods for his pleasure. He opened up his nephew with tongs when he was not receptive, poked him with needles to make him bleed, inserted various objects into his anus. On occasion, he even forced him to perform sexual favours on other men.
Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court lawyer and director of the anti-trafficking NGO, Shakti Vahini, says the maximum incidences of fathers raping daughters that he has witnessed happen in upper-class, elite families. But he hasnât been able to take even a single case through to its just end. âThere is so much pressure within the family, the fathers brothers, their wives, everyone suddenly appears on the scene once âfamily honourâ is at stake,â he says.
But even as one persists with these reiterations, it is important to map the other key vulnerabilities in the system. Juvenile justice homes are one such black hole.
A report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights has listed four reasons why these shelter and rehabilitation homes have become sites of such intense sexual assault and exploitation. First, most states have not formed Inspection Committees, which are mandated to inspect juvenile justice homes at least once every three months. Secondly, there are hundreds of unregistered childcare homes in the country that fall outside the purview of any regulatory mechanism. Thirdly, though the Juvenile Justice Act, 2007, provides for separate facilities for boys and girls, for the most part, this is not complied with. Finally, though there are 462 district-level Child Welfare Committees in 23 states mandated to verify the viability of childcare institutions, most of these exist only on paper. (Bizarrely, in October 2010, the Karnataka government even prohibited members of the welfare committees to visit childcare institutions without prior permission from the institution heads. In effect, this order prohibited any random or surprise inspections.)
Unfortunately, the judicial infrastructure and attitudes around child rape can often be as bruising and opaque.
Following the 2007 Human Rights Watch study, which revealed one in every two interviewed children had been abused, Parliament had passed a landmark Bill for the prevention of sexual offences against children last November. According to the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, separate and stringent punishments are to be meted out for each kind of violation of a childâs innocence, including exposing the child to pornography, taking nude photographs of him/her or exposing the child to oneâs private parts. Further, the Act attempts to make legal proceedings âchild friendlyâ by decreeing that the victimâs testimony be recorded by an officer not in uniform (preferably female), at a place of the childâs choosing. Under no circumstance should the child be detained at a police station. Additionally, the Act declares that anyone who knows of a child being abused and fails to report the matter to the police can and will be punished.
There were other good interventions. The Act made it mandatory for legal aid to be provided to minors who have complained of rape. This was meant to be implemented by state-level commissions and Child Welfare Committees, statutory bodies set up to administer shelters and children in need of protection and care under the Juvenile Justice Act.
This was a path-breaking clause because even though a public prosecutor is appointed to all such cases, there was a desperate need for legal counsel for parents who donât want to suffer the laborious process of filing a case, being threatened, or even putting their child through the repeated trauma of testifying before a magistrate.
But sadly â depressingly â on ground, all of this is just so much white smoke. As already mentioned, most of the state-level commissions donât even exist. And recently, when the Ministry of Women and Child Development wrote to all the state secretaries asking them to report back on what had been done to set up state-level commissions to implement POCSO, only Odisha and Haryana wrote back.
|Child GÂ – AGE 8 |Â Delhi
Occurred 2008 | Accused set free by trial court
His eight-year-old daughter was raped by a neighbourâs son. When he filed a case, the court deemed the accused a juvenile despite electoral rolls putting his age at 20 and medical tests determining that he was at least 18 years and two months old at the time of the crime. After two weeks in judicial custody, he was let off.
|Child HÂ - AGE Â 3 |Â Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
Occurred 2012 | Convicted in 2013
He would rape his three-year-old daughter when his wife went to drop their five-year-old son to school. A compounder by profession, he knew how to rape his daughter in a manner that would cause minimal visible damage. The abuse only came to light when he was caught in the act. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in January.
Indiaâs darkest, most ugly and hellish epidemic and no government functionary is even interested to write back. Like most Indian laws, POCSO too appears to be written for an imagined law-enforcing machinery.
This criminal absence of response becomes even starker when contrasted with how effective these interventions could be â if acted upon.