Shame in Kathua and punitive action

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“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.”

– William Barclay

Arunachal Pradesh recently became the fourth state in the country to pass a legislation approving the death penalty for child rape. The Criminal Laws (Arunachal Pradesh) Amendment Bill-2018 was passed by unanimous voice vote in the state assembly by all the members present. This development follows a series of incidents where the public resorted to vigilante justice to punish alleged child rapists. Similar legislations were earlier approved by the BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana. The Bill seeks to amend sections 376AA and Sec 376D of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – which prescribes punishment for offences such as rape and gang-rape of girls below 12 years – to include the death penalty as well as other punitive actions. The state off late has witnessed a rise in crimes against child and woman. In February, a mob of nearly 1,000 people dragged two people accused of raping a five-year-old girl out of a police station in Lohit district and lynched them in the local marketplace. A day later, nearly 900 people ransacked a police station at Yingkiong – the headquarters of Upper Siang district – because another rape accused of a minor had been shifted to a different district. In another incident, a group of people paraded the alleged rapist of an eight-year-old girl on the streets of Daporijo in Upper Subansiri district before handing him over to the police.

In India, awarding capital punishment is an exception and not the rule. This crime is now on the upswing despite stringent laws. There has been a public outcry for harsher punishment for rapists, even death penalty, particularly after the Nirbhaya episode of December 16, 2012. The two recent rape cases — one involving Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh’s Bangarmau district and another of a minor girl hailing from nomadic Bakherwal Muslim community at Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir – have shocked the nation. The kidnapping, rape and killing of the girl of the Bakherwal community was part of a planned, chilling strategy to instil fear and drive the nomadic tribe out of the region, reveals the 15-page charge-sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in court on Monday.  What is more shocking however, is the protest by a group of lawyers who tried to prevent the police from filing their charge sheet citing that it was prejudiced against the minority Dogra community. This shameless act deserves to be condemned by every Indian. But BJP, which is in power in the state in alliance with PDP, is publicly supporting those elements which have tried to give a communal colour to the incident. Even two BJP ministers, reportedly, attended a rally of Hindu Ekta Manch held in support of the accused.

What is tragic is the communal colour that the Kathua crime has taken on and the politics involved which could prevent stringent punishment from being meted out to the accused. Only successful prosecutions, increase in number of convictions, holistic and integrated approach including social awareness, can bring about the desired transformative changes in the lives of the girls. Legislation and awareness campaigns are important. But it is just as vital that everyone respects women and girls as fellow human beings.

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