Days after Narendra Modi denounced the Kathua and Unnao rape incidents, a total of 637 academics and independent scholars from India and abroad said that the prime minister’s assurances of justice for the victims were “wholly inadequate, platitudinous, and non-specific”.
Last Friday, PM Modi, in a delayed response over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua and the alleged rape of a teenager by a BJP MLA in Unnao, said the culprits will not be spared. Thereafter, in London, he insisted that rapes should not be politicised.
In an open letter to PM Modi, the academics expressed their “deep anger and anguish over the events in Kathua and Unnao and the aftermath of these events; over the efforts, in both cases, of those administering the relevant states to protect the alleged perpetrators of these monstrous crimes; over the subsequent profoundly distasteful efforts of rationalisation, deflection and diversion that have been so much in evidence in the reactions of your (BJP) party’s spokespersons in the media.”
The academics further said that the prime minister broke his “prolonged (and by now familiar) silence” with “wholly inadequate, platitudinous, and non-specific assurances of justice for the victims.”
They further asserted that Kathua and Unnao are not isolated incidents. “They are part of a pattern of repeated targeted attacks on minority religious communities, Dalits, tribals and women, in which rape and lynching have been employed as instruments of violence by gau rakshaks and others, in a sequence of events spread across Dadri in Uttar Pradesh (2015), Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir (2015), Bijapur and Sukma in Chhattisgarh (2015-16), Harda in Madhya Pradesh (2016), Latehar in Jharkand (2016), Una in Gujarat (2016), Rohtak in Haryana (2017), Delhi (2017), Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh (2017), and now Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh (2018).”
The scholars also pointed out that many of the rape incidents in the recent past have occurred in states with BJP governments, and all of them after the BJP assumed power at the Centre. “This is not to associate violence exclusively with your party and with state governments presided over by your party. But there is an undeniable association with the ruling dispensation.”
“There is little evidence, in government action, of an appreciation of the importance of providing assistance to vulnerable sections of the society – whether through promotional measures aimed at enabling tribals and nomads to have access to forest and common property rights, or through preventive measures aimed at discouraging blatant breaches of the rule of law,” they added.
The academics also quoted the Allahabad High Court’s observation in the Unnao rape case wherein it said: “If this is the conduct of the police in the state, whom will a victim approach to register a complaint? If this is the stand you are repeatedly taking then we will be forced to observe in our order that law and order has collapsed in the state”.
“We send you this letter because it is our duty to do so; so that we are not guilty of silence; and so that callousness and cowardice might finally draw the line at the broken body of a little girl and the rape of a young woman,” the letter concluded.
An eight-year-old from Bakarwal community in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district was sedated, held captive, gangraped and murdered in January this year. In Unnao, a 17-year-old has accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar of rape. These two incidents have sparked outrage across the country and protests were held in several cities last week.
In the backdrop of these events, the union cabinet on Saturday approved an ordinance to allow courts to award death penalty to those convicted of raping children up to 12 years of age, according to official sources in the government. The criminal law amendment ordinance seeks to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act to introduce a new provision to sentence convicts of such crimes punishment of death.