Politics be damned, the priority now should be to get justice in the Unnao rape and the strictest penalty for the offender
If there is one reason why the political whataboutery and tallying criminal statistics of various party regimes in Uttar Pradesh (UP) should stop right now, it is the Unnao rape case survivor, who is gasping for justice and life. It is alleged that the car crash that injured her and other family members critically was pre-meditated and orchestrated to silence her forever ever since her crusade has led to the imprisonment of the accused and rapist, BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar. Too many coincidences despite the suspect being in jail — her father dying in custody, harassment and threats to her family to back off or face consequences, the imprisonment of an uncle over trumped-up charges, the death of an aunt who was a witness to the case, the lack of security cover in her entourage at the time of the accident — have only strengthened the conspiracy of power and the victimhood of silence. The counter-charges of her security detail colluding with the MLA’s henchmen and her family citing warnings by the State police to stay off Sengar have only entrenched the stereotype of UP still being the proverbial badlands. Yet the accused continues to get political endorsement by virtue of continuing to be a member of the ruling party, in this case the BJP, which is yet to act against him pending the closure of the case. Not that other parties in the past haven’t been complicit in protecting sexual offenders, prioritising political necessity over the rule of law. The point is that this acceptance has become so much a part of our political culture that it took the distraught rape survivor, a minor girl, a self-immolation bid in front of the Chief Minister’s residence to get the justice system moving. Ironically, this incident challenges even the Supreme Court’s concern over the increasing number of child rape cases in India. And comes within days of the top court ordering that special courts be set up in districts where over 100 sexual offence cases are pending.
Just going over the facts of the Unnao case shows that despite the allocation of investigations to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), there has anyway been a gross travesty of justice. Although sexual offences of such a grave nature have a timeline to work upon, the State prosecution has nothing to show even after two years have elapsed. This wilful delay and the impunity enjoyed by the accused has anyway compromised evidence, witnesses and the fairness of the justice delivery system. Over 1.5 lakh cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act are pending in 670 designated courts, or 224 cases in each. In UP and Rajasthan, victims can hope for justice only in 2026. In Delhi and Bihar, a child has to wait till 2029, while in Maharashtra a victim has to wait till 2032! This proves that there is simply no national will to stem the abuse of our most precious human resource — children. And no matter how aggressively we push legislative changes and stricter punishments like death penalty for rape of minor children, all this is counter-productive till the justice delivery module is not changed in its entirety. Of course, now that the apex court has directed that new courts can be set up with Central funds to take care of appointment of new judges, prosecutors, support staff, counsellors and creation of child-friendly courtrooms, specifically for POCSO cases, there seems to be a sliver of hope. This means that exclusive courts, as per the quantum of pendency, can ensure fast track and time-bound trial in every district. A Supreme Court mandated intervention means the Centre, State governments and High Courts could become proactive. Other suggestions from activists include creating a dedicated police cadet corps for registration and investigation of cases of crimes against children and a national grid for tracking pendency and performance of courts. What is also needed for protecting the child and his/her family from political intimidation is the evolution of a victim and witness protection, including relocation and court-mandated protection to victims of child sexual abuse and their families. There also needs to be a sex offenders’ registry to deter repeat offenders of child sexual abuse. Most important is rehabilitative and reintegration assistance to the affected child/adolescent. The Unnao teen may not make it but surely become political fodder for all parties concerned to feed on. As a nation, therefore, we cannot certainly abandon her fight for justice.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer