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How Society, Police & Judiciary Failed To Protect This 14-Year-Old From A Sex Offender

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By Ankita Surabhi:

Unaccustomed to grasping reality, our society today is the epitome of delusional or rather blissfully ignorant. I am compelled to draw comparisons with the so-called jungle rule where it’s each person for themselves. The animals act on instinct, exclusively for survival. The so-called civilised two-legged creatures act on benefit per se, pleasure, ulterior motives and with no attempt at mincing words, against fellow human beings.

The negativity and hatred are palpable like simmering lava. A 14-year-old was kidnapped, twice, violated and murdered in grave circumstances. The news made multiple rounds, maybe even rattled consciences, mine included.

A child was raped. A child was murdered. A child was brutalised at the hands of the same perpetrator who should have been behind bars, within the clasp of the law and beyond the reach of the child.

How did he then manage to grab hold of her, evade consequences, keep her confined and continue his crimes for over two months before she succumbed and met her fateful end? The projection by the media of the crime focuses on three things primarily; that encompass the elements of this case.

Caste considerations and distinction being one, repeated aggravated sexual offence against a minor being two, and thirdly the shameful realisation that messed up procedures in our country have made a mockery of the judicial system resulting in nothing but disdainful tongue-clicking.

Shockingly, it wasn’t the first time, the girl, had been preyed upon. Predators or child sex offenders are adept at masking their nefarious intentions allowing them access to innocent kids. The fact that she was of a ‘lower’ caste despite making little difference to the nature of the crime did play heavily into boosting the audacious attitude of the offender.

Being socially accredited depending on the lineage of one’s birth has led to a false sense of entitlement, that is openly abused by pugnacious dimwits. It remains unclear whether a POCSO case was registered, but it’s certain that no case under Prevention of Atrocities Act was filed.

The SCs and STs require cohesive, focused protection by/under the law simply because its evolution took a different path and was tailored to suit the majority, rather than values of equality. It’s an echo of the past that rings hollow reverberations into our present and unfortunately unless things change, far into the future.

Sexual offences against children are heartbreaking and tear at the tapestry of our already dubious mentality.

The Law

Despite a case being lodged at the first instance, in December, the accused was roaming freely and managed to grab the girl in May. For two months, she suffered intolerable cruelty, at the hands of someone known to her. Enacted only in 2012, punishment under 4 and 6 of The Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act range from 7 years minimum to life.It was reported that she retracted her statement before the Magistrate, and had willingly accompanied the man. It makes no difference. Sexual intercourse with a minor is a crime, unconditionally and consent is irrelevant.

Assertions of influence, coercion and leading questions indicating foul play by the police have surfaced, which cannot be ruled out. Suffice to say, it could have been for no other reason that sheer laziness and incompetency that has come to define investigative processes.

POCSO Act is a commitment that ensures the victim is treated with respect, understanding and sensitivity in the most harrowing hours that is key to ensuring conviction, often a tall order, because of irreversible damage and trauma that shatters the psyche.

Questions have to be raised regarding the method of recording a statement. Where was it done? Were the accused and victim separated immediately? Was protection and counselling provided to the victim who on top of being ostracised for her caste would be cornered further into the spectrum of stigma? Was privacy maintained regarding the identity of the girl? Why was our pride as a community put to shame once again when we failed to protect the child who relies on us completely?

Another life has been lost into oblivion. Victim Protection Protocols need to be strengthened in our country. Half measures is a trademark of our approach towards crime prevention. Moreso, because of our apathetic nature. Bail provisions have to be weighed on the anvil of judicial necessity and effect of the society on a case by case basis.

Child offenders get bolder because the victim is a small target and can be easily eliminated. Without witness testimony, we are back to square one. Thousands of such demons throng our environment due to lapses in our collective will to stand up and fight, not just for ourselves but for those who can’t. Case in point: Women, children, minorities. She was all three. From a dystopian perspective, she stood no chance.

Criminality

Did being a Dalit make a difference? The accused should be questioned on it. Criminology relies on and draws from psychological churnings that breathe life into criminal intent. Rape and abuse are exertions of misplaced feelings of power, authority and rage. It has happened in the past and will likely happen again. It is our bounden duty to dig deep into the validity and efficacy of caste distinctions and its effect on our society. What are we building for our children? How are we making it the promised safe haven to secure their bright future? It was a 14-year-old today, of poor socio-economic background, with little means to raise havoc among the community, to fight the injustice meted out to her. She cannot speak from the grave. We should, while we can.

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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