Opinion

Child rapes in India that have shocked the world

Published on 23 April 2018

Image of Lyla Mehta
Lyla Mehta

Professorial Fellow

We academics wish to express our anguish with regard to the recent rapes in India that have shocked the nation and the world. In Kathua, Jammu an eight year old girl belonging to the nomadic Bakerwal Muslim community was brutally gang raped and murdered, as part of an act to ‘communally cleanse’ the area of this minority group. The police and lawyers seeking justice for the girl were initially prevented from filing charge sheets by right-wing Hindu supporters, including local lawyers and two state ministers from the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Another recent rape of a minor in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh has also dominated the headlines. Here too state government failed to even initially register the case and most shockingly the protesting father of the victim died in judicial custody.

Local women hold signs in protest against the rape and murder of a domestic worker in India.

The recent statistics of convictions in rape cases of women and minors in India is dismal with only one in four being brought to book. Prime Minister Modi’s assurances of ‘protecting daughters’ and the girl child ring hollow as those belonging to his own party are being accused of rape. Moreover, the ruling BJP and its supporters have tended to protect alleged perpetrators instead of assuming the responsibility of protecting the basic rights of the victims. A corrupt police and a shambolic criminal justice system subject to political pressure allow powerful perpetrators to roam freely. 

These two rapes are a symptom of a deeper socio-political systemic crisis in India and not isolated incidents. Under Modi’s watch, hate speech as well as hate crimes (including rapes, murders and lynching) vis-a-vis minorities such as Muslims, Christians and Dalits as well as women and children have increased. Rapes have often been used as weapons to subjugate minorities during communal riots. The secular and moral fabric of India has been undermined. The Prime Minister has usually responded with silence or weak assurances of justice. 

We wonder whether these issues were adequately addressed at last week’s Commonwealth heads of state meeting, where no doubt ministerial platitudes and discussions of future economic transactions dominated.

As a reaction to the uproar in India and the world about these two cases, the Indian government has just approved the introduction of the death penalty for those who rape children. Yet it is unknown whether this will really reduce incidences of rape in the long run. 

Firm assertive action to bring the perpetrators to book, including policies that implement the vitally needed police and judicial reform to enhance accountability may go some way towards securing justice for the victims. It is also important to protect the rights and interests of minorities, women and children. Individuals, especially government officials, committing hate crimes and hate speech must be swiftly prosecuted. 

Professor Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies 

Professor Vinita Damodaran, University of Sussex

Dr Shilpi Srivastava, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Priya Deshingkar, University of Sussex

Dr Jaideep Gupte, Institute of Development Studies 

Dr Anuradha Joshi, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Deepta Chopra, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Dolf te Lintelo, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Shandana Mohmand, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Lars Otto Naess, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Pauline Oosterhoff, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Amrita Saha, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Philip Mader, Institute of Development Studies

Professor Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex

Dr Kirat Randhawa

Dr Syed Abbas, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Aparna John, Institute of Development Studies

Professor Pritam Singh, Oxford Brookes University

Dr Bindi Shah, University of Southampton

Dr Saurabh Arora, University of Sussex

Dr Meena Dhanda, University of Wolverhampton

Dr Rob Byrne, University of Sussex

Professor Steve Taylor, Northumbria University

Jerker Edström, Institute of Development Studies

Dr. Pragya Srivastava, The Francis Crick Institute, London

Dr Dinah Rajak, University of Sussex

Dr Subir Sinha, SOAS

Photo: Protests against the rape and murder of a minor domestic worker in Gurgaon, India in 2017. IDWF / Flickr / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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