Of late the state has been rocked by frequent acts of gender crime. Worse still is that the victims in most cases have been young children. While Batadraba in Nagaon continues to grab news headlines, many other places have witnessed similar cases of violence against women and children.
These crimes have once again reasserted that safety of women continues to be an illusion. Be it a young child of 6-8 years old or an elderly woman in her 60s, none can be assured of safety. Young children have been violated and murdered brutally.
A young girl child is no more safe even in her own home, is no more safe in the company of her family friends. In a recent incident, a class ten student accused her own father of sexually abusing her. This brings to mind the horrid picture of rising cases of gender violence and child sexual abuse in particular. Children being easy victims often fall prey to such violence. Pinky Virani in her book Bitter Chocolate gave a graphic account of child sexual abuse in India. It broke the myth of home or school being a safe space.
In the recent cases of sexual abuse, children were abducted from their own homes, some were abused by family friends or close neighbours for many months, their little bodies bore signs of such trauma.
But our society which often stigmatizes sexual abuse and blames victims gives no space to children to talk about such violation. Young lives are ruined for no fault of their own. But what is disturbing is a stifling social system which continues to conveniently deny the muck of sexual abuse which is very much around.
The latest strings of incidents of sexual abuse and the subsequent response somehow fails to address the most pressing questions. The fact remains that there is an environment of insecurity when it comes to the safety of women and children.
It also is a glaring fact that many of us are unaware of cases of child sexual abuse happening in our own surroundings or the ways to tackle it. The recent discussion around cases of sexual abuse gloss over these issues lightly and focuses more on the socio-religious background of the rapists in some of the cases.
It needs no saying that too many tabloids, news channels declared Bengali speaking Muslims as sole perpetrators of such crimes. Talk shows were held to discuss criminal tendencies in Muslims. And such talk shows did not bother to have a single person who was a specialist in child sexual abuse or was familiar with the psychology that goes hand and hand with such crimes. Politicians and ideologues known for rabble rousing were invited to further communalize the issue.
The government was not held accountable for rising crimes against women and children. Instead a community was conveniently marked as being largely responsible for such crimes. It is to be noted that even when such discourses were doing the rounds, gender violence continued and perpetrators were from non-Muslim communities as well.
But the mainstream news media conveniently posted crimes committed by Muslims as ones having bearing for the entire community. However, crimes caused by people from other communities were peddled was isolated incidents.
Along with targeting a single community for the rising violence against women, many politicians like BJP MLA Shiladitya Deb conveniently said that the accused are Bangladeshis. One need not mention that there is no such proof of the accused people being illegal immigrants. But merely on the basis of their socio-religious background, such prejudices were being peddled.
What is the danger of communalizing crime? There is a tendency to overlook the complexities of gender based violence. Perpetrators of gender violence cut across caste, community and class. In such a scenario reducing it to members of a particular community would simplify the issue.
Then we will start looking for easy quick solutions which need not necessarily be just. There was also no genuine engagement with the socio-economic conditions of various communities which might have a bearing on higher incidence of gender based violence.
A large number of people who came out to streets protesting against gender violence demanded strict punishment for such perpetrators. Many clearly supported capital punishment especially if the victim is a minor.
Here it needs to be noted that many studies have proven that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent. Such a punishment is also reserved for very rare cases. Most developed countries are giving up capital punishment while countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia etc continue with such punishment.
In India death sentence continues to be reserved for a rarest of the rare case. What we need is to increase the conviction rate which is as low as 26%. The Assam government’s decision to set up fast track courts to try cases of gender violence is to be applauded. But at the same time a social problem should not be reduced to a law and order issue.
Misogyny, patriarchal bias against women, cases of domestic violence etc need to be countered to build up a gender just society. Even now victims complain that lodging an FIR is difficult due to insensitive police and administration. Victim shaming and blaming continues to be rampant.
Knee jerk solution to rape seems to be either death sentence for the rapists or restricting the mobility of women. While these may be short term solutions, the society as a whole must be ready to tackle a value system which treats women as inferior beings, to be regulated, controlled and constrained.
Parvin Sultana is an assistant professor in Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.