Yes, this particular case was fast-tracked but what of the lakhs of girls still awaiting justice in courts out of the media glare?
The Kathua case verdict, pertaining to justice for the eight-year-old girl, who was brutally raped and murdered to send out a political message to herders in Jammu that they should move out or risk threats to their existence, has no doubt been fast-tracked. Yet there is a feeling of inadequacy about it. First and foremost, many questioned why three of the accused were sentenced to life when the Modi government had brought in an ordinance prescribing the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 to set an example and a deterrent. Let us emphasise that it was issued following the gruesome violence of this specific case. Of course, that had set off a debate as to how the death penalty meant that the deviant offender would be tempted to go to the extreme, kill his innocent victim and mutilate all evidentiary trail. But for the child that is forever lost to us, not just the family, there will perhaps be no closure of justice till capital punishment is handed out. Of course, the case had been politicised enough with at least two former BJP leaders joining a protest march last year demanding the release of the accused. The case further weakened the ties between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP, the former accusing the latter of polarising a sensitive issue such as a violation of child rights along religious lines. But fortunately, the cheap whataboutery died soon enough with a speedy probe, which its investigator said happened without any political pressure, and a court verdict. Of course, there’s a question about why the three dismissed policemen who had tampered with evidence — Anand Dutta, Tikal Raj and Surinder Singh — were given just a five-year jail term. In cases such as these, police action is meant to be the real deterrent and till we have a system that is sensitive, swift, reactive and effective, there will be no resolution for either the families of the dead or the survivors. If these cops had indeed acted as per the instruction of the guilty or any other kind of external pressure, then they are equally if not more culpable. For their destruction of justice is just as willful as criminals, considering they are our first-line protectors. Of course, the ruling does hold out hope for resolution, particularly against the backdrop of the killing of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl in Aligarh, possibly involving assault, as a threat to her family for non-payment of a loan. It is also the reason why Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi used the Kathua rape verdict to highlight that “over a lakh daughters still await justice in our courts.”
And that is the real issue, of setting up an actionable redressal framework. A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India, according to government crime figures up to 2016. New figures have not been compiled yet so that number has clearly risen now. Add to that the many pleas that are unreported. India’s record in violation of child rights is not only frightening but also a sick measure of a societal mindset that devalues kids as a tradeable asset. Worse, children are used for fear-mongering like sacrificial lambs. Satyarthi himself has been conducting independent research and found that sexual offences committed against children are so high that about 50 per cent of our kids, both rural and urban, are subjected to predatory behaviour by the time they are adolescents. And despite the provision of the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), the implementation and processes are so tardy that the affected child may well turn an adult before he finds justice. All this is complicated by a hostile police set-up and a machinery which needs to be upbraided instantaneously for any laxity in follow-up and failure to provide a child-friendly module. There also has to be a multi-State approach to coordinating probes and booking culprits. Most importantly, there has to be conviction, the rate of which is appallingly low in our country although rape and gangrape cases are progressively increasing. Till there are no immediate deterrents, severe punishment meted out to errants in real time and healing affected children, there can be no hope. Our law is not really weak. It is we who have made it weak by not respecting it ourselves and worse, not implementing it in letter and spirit. It is sad that we have to wait for the courts, the final vehicle in the justice delivery system, to protect our children.