Sumbal horror

Kashmir Times. Dated: 5/15/2019 2:38:18 PM

The horrifying case of rape of 3-year-old girl is another reminder of the flawed public and official response to sexual abuse

The rape of a three-year old girl in Sumbal in North Kashmir is yet another shocking reflection of the deep-rooted issue of sexual violence whose scale is multiple times more than the number of cases reported. The public as well as official reaction to it reveals both a lack of understanding of the issue and inadequacy of response. The incident is not an aberration and neither is sexual abuse is a new phenomenon. It has existed for centuries in the society across the world but continues to be pushed beneath the covers; it is now that a fraction of reports of such harassment have started coming to the surface. Majority of these cases that are reported are met often with cold indifference or even denial. The case of Sumbal is exceptionally horrifying because the victim is only three-year old at an age when children cannot even understand the wrong perpetrated on their body. The huge psychological impact of the crime on her mind is unimaginable. The incident should shake the conscience of everybody. The Valley is erupting in protests over the rape of the three-year-old girl which is a sign of that awakening but the worrying aspect is the belated response and the wrong direction it is taking. Violence during protests resembling the familiar pattern of Valley's conflict related incidents dilutes the basic issue over which the outrage is pouring out in the streets to demand justice for the girl. In this particular case at least, the police immediately swung into action and arrested the accused and is also investigating the angle of the alleged fake certificate projecting the accused as a minor. So far, the legal process is moving in the right direction but a conscious public response can ensure that the process of legal investigation reaches its logical culmination. In this direction, it would be important to ask questions why and how the identity of the survivor was revealed in clear violation of court rulings. While outrage, grief, condemnations and a churning within the society are the vital imperatives, protests that are going haywire would only be counter-productive. While the society's response at this juncture should be to not just offer lip sympathy in this particular case but go beyond that to recognize the massive number of crimes related to sexual violence and put in perspective the lacunae within the system that allows the accused to get away. Rapes and sexual violence need to be understood in their proper perspective and recent discourse across the globe should be instructive that this is not related to immorality and criminality of society but is an impact of unequal gender relations.
Like rest of South Asia, sexual violence cases in Kashmir have been under-reported because of societal stigma and an insensitive legal justice mechanism including lethargy of police and sometimes its tacit involvement in fudging up evidence. The public response, therefore, needs to begin by looking inwards to find ways to address the gender disparities. There is dire need for a consistent and conscious public response to sexual harassment of all forms and intolerance to it without any regional, communal or class biases. If such consciousness erupts in fits and starts, and outrage pours only in select cases, the very purpose is defeated. A larger responsibility, however, is on the government and its organs in ensuring promptness in investigations, sensitivity while handling such cases and fast track trials to ensure speedy justice. Lacunae at this end begins from the denial at police stations, discouragement to victims and often callousness, deliberate or reckless, in collection of evidence including medical reports ending up in double-victimisation of the sufferer. The guidelines for such an investigation have never duly been followed which is the main reason that prosecution in cases of sexual violence is extremely low. Only a reverse of that can act as a deterrent. To change this equation, the government and the public need to work in tandem. Sexual violence can be ideally fought by creating an atmosphere of confidence among victims, encouraging them and their families to report violations and abuse, sensitive handling of investigations, followed by speedy trials apart from counselling of victims. These lessons have been learnt every time some incident of sexual abuse catches the public imagination but are lost. The heinous rape of a three-year-old girl in Sumbal is another reminder that the collective fight against sexual violence is inadequate and directionless. It needs a deeper introspection and a more consistent approach.



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