Belief is that there is a solution to every problem. The celebrations breaking out over the Kathua verdict are nothing but us telling us: Every night has a morning — this is ours. The verdict came as a breather for the criminal justice delivery system even as the outrage over the gruesome murder of a three-year-old in Aligarh refuses to die down. In 2018, the gory and brutal rape and murder of 8-year-old girl of Kathua in Kashmir shook all of us from the collective dormancy that our society has accepted as a way of life and trouble the conscience of a nation. It will go down as an act of human bestiality that makes us all hang our heads in shame. What an irony! Custodian of the law became the perpetrator of the crime in uniform. Could any betrayal be more inhuman? Details of the horror perpetrated on the girl left many of us speechless and agonised. But the case gained more traction because it became a communal issue. To me, the biggest shame was when the tri-color of her country was being used to justify or shield her violators. The images of those rallies organised to shield the perpetrators will be pasted on our conscience for a long time — so will be the fact that some of us fell into the trap of vultures whose only aim is always to see their agendas being peddled while dividing people. In an ideal society, such crimes should cause shudders in one and all, irrespective of the identity of the victim or the accused.
It is indeed a welcome judgment. The conviction rates in cases of crimes against women must rise to deter more men from raping women and children. And that is why the celebrations breaking out over Kathua must pause. Kathua verdict has come in, but crimes against minor girls continue to shock society. In the past month, we have had umpteen cases of heinous crimes against minor girls, including rape and murder, with three cases in Uttar Pradesh and two from Madhya Pradesh, reveals how law and order and the protection of life and dignity of the most vulnerable remains the biggest challenge for state governments. They were all children whose cases may or may not reach logical conclusions because these cases have failed to become a ‘national issue of debate’. Because their cases did not lead to people tearing each other apart on social media. There are many more girls whose cases do not even reach police stations, either because of social stigma or the perpetrator being too powerful to be taken on. On top of that, victims have to endure the humiliating ordeal of callous policemen, insensitive doctors, inadequate rape laws and trials which question their character.
The Kathua case should be a template for these cases: solid investigation and the delivery of justice within a specific time-frame are critical; it is equally important for political parties to desist from politicising such cases. Too many people get away with too many criminal acts, because we have failed to establish respect for law. The fear and certainty of punishment is the only deterrent. Legislating stiffer punishments is the easier, token-ist part. Unless the policing system shows improvement in the collection of forensic evidence, humane treatment to victims and beat policing, rapists will remain confident that they can get away with their crimes. Successive governments have also claimed that trials and appeals would be fast-tracked so that justice is not delayed. Yet even high profile crimes take long periods to dispose of. The death penalty also serves as a perverse incentive to murder minor girls to destroy evidence. Much is broken with the policing and legal system, including the dehumanising conditions under which police personnel work. A crime has to be fixed by the application of law: the existing laws, not the so-called stronger ones. What matters is the conviction, consistency and certainty of prescribed punishment.
Nothing changed since December 2012. One sensational incident and we sizzle, the media goes on an overdrive, the political opponents skin each other, those who claim responsibility for the crime watch the drama on their TV sets and have the last laugh. The death of the Kathua victim was brutal and the outrage it evoked was warranted — but what about cases that do not evoke national outrage? How can we then say that justice has been served when some girl or women is being raped in some part of the country even as you are reading this? It is naive to call the Kathua verdict a victory of the justice system of this country. Speedy trials come after anger spills onto the roads and photos of outraged people are carried on front pages in newspapers, when the stories get prime time coverage on national TV. When guardians of the law become law-breakers, then we must fear for the future. The judgment in the case has been delivered — but we failed that little girl. The Kathua case may have happened years after the Nirbhaya case, but the dark underbelly of our society has been exposed once again. Not that it would matter much to these innocent souls, but perhaps, we should hang our heads in shame and say sorry. For countless others, the night has been unending. The tunnel too dark, too dreary. For them, there is no light. Hold the celebrations — think about them.