Hathras and after: How myopic politics is failing victims of sex crimes

Hathras case has brought to light two aspects of sexual assault crimes against women. The first one to reinforce that safety of women remains a big concern in India. Secondly, there is lack of sensitivity towards crimes of sexual assault.

Some of the influential people have emphasised the need to “inculcate samskar (moral values) in daughters” while others conveniently blamed sexual assault crimes on internet. This tendency of trivializing a sexual assault crime is, however, not new.

‘RAPE BY FOUR NOT PRACTICAL’

Veteran politician and former Union minister Mulayam Singh Yadav infamously said during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls that “boys make mistakes” while opposing the death for rape law. He drew ire of activists and general public for trivializing sexual assault crimes in particular and the crimes against women in general.

“Rape ke liye phaansi dena ghalat hai, ladkon se ghalti ho jaati hai, hum satta mein aaye to kanoon mein badlav karenge (Awarding death sentence for rape is wrong, boys make mistakes. If we come to power, we will amend the law),” Mulayam Singh Yadav told an election rally in Uttar Pradesh in April 2014.

Mulayam Singh Yadav made the remark within a week of a Mumbai court awarding death sentence to three repeat offenders in two cases of gangrape committed at deserted Shakti Mills compound. This was the first death sentence awarded to rape case convicts after the law was amended in 2013.

Incidentally, Mulayam Singh Yadav raked up fresh controversy a year later, in August 2015, when he suggested women alleging rape falsely implicate innocent people in the crime.

“It is often seen that if one person commits rape, four people are named in the complaint. Four people are named for rape, can it be possible? It is not practical,” he had said.

Mulayam Singh’s party, the Samajwadi Party, was ruling at the time in Uttar Pradesh and his son Akhilesh Yadav was the chief minister.

WHO TO BLAME?

Now commenting on the Hathras case of alleged gangrape and murder, Ballia MLA Surendra Singh of the BJP – the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh – has said, “Incidents like these can be prevented with help of good values na shasan se na talwar se [these cannot be prevented with either administration or force]. All parents should teach their daughters good values. It is only the combination of government and good values that can make country beautiful.”

Cases of alleged gangrapes also hit headlines from Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan around the same time as Hathras. Rajasthan DGP Bhupendra Yadav cited “internet” and “curiosity” of the youth as reasons for increase in rape cases. He also said the cases of rape are being registered to “settle” property disputes and personal enmity.

Incidentally, the recently released data of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), Rajasthan has reported the highest number of rape cases followed by Uttar Pradesh, where Hathras case has created a storm in political and public debates.

With the BJP government of the Uttar Pradesh facing flak from the Opposition – in wake of pushing and shoving of Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien – over Hathras incident, the party’s IT cell head Amit Malviya posted a video disclosing the identity of the victim.

The BJP has argued that the victim was not sexually assaulted and hence it is not against the law to disclose the identity. However, there are possibilities to the contrary.

HATHRAS: WRAPPED IN MIST OF CLAIMS

Was the 19-year-old Hathras victim raped or gangraped?

There have been conflicting versions and the truth is yet to be dug out. The family has said the deceased was gangraped by more than one person, who fatally assaulted her on September 14.

She died on September 28 in a Delhi hospital.

While it is unclear what was the exact nature and extent of assault on the Hathras victim, comments by some of the influential people appear to trivialize sexual assault crimes against women.

The police have denied sexual assault or rape citing a forensic lab report that ruled out presence of semen on the victim’s body. The forensic sample was collected 11 days after the incident. The standard guidelines say the samples should be collected preferably within 72 hours and not later than 96 hours of the incident.

Videos have gone viral making contrasting claims. A video is doing round on the social media in which the deceased can be heard saying she was sexually assaulted by two while two other accomplices ran away. The administration released another video in which the victim’s mother could be heard saying only one person sexually assaulted the deceased.

There are medical reports of interest in the Hathras case. The preliminary medico-legal report, prepared on September 22 after examination of the Dalit woman, noted “complete” penetration of “vagina” by “penis”.

The doctor preparing the report said, “On the basis of local examination, I am of the opinion that there are signs of use of force; however, opinion regarding penetrative intercourse is reserved pending availability of FSL reports.”

The final report of October 3 said, “There are no signs suggestive of vaginal/anal intercourse. There is evidence of physical assault.”

This has been interpreted by the administration after the FSL report ruled out the presence of semen to assert that the victim was not sexually assaulted.

FINALLY, WHAT LAW SAYS

The administration’s claim followed the FSL report that found no trace of semen. This has formed the basis of the claim that the victim was not raped. This led the many to go public with the victim’s identity.

The law, however, would suggest otherwise. The FIR in the Hathras case mentions the sections of law relating to sexual assault and rape. Those provisions have not yet been stricken off.

Section 228 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) says that if a case has been registered under the laws relating to rape under Section 376, identity of the victim cannot be disclosed. This law does not allow identifying the victim of a sexual assault crime until the crime has been proven, that is, the case of rape has been proven in a court.

Given that the laws expect sensitive approach and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records paint a grim picture of the state of sexual crimes against women in the country, the comments by the leaders and people in administration do raise a question: Aren’t the sexual assault crimes being trivialized?



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