When the news of the rape of a five-year-old girl broke in New Delhi, India predictably and collectively lost it. Protests have erupted all over the city as people are demanding answers from the police and local authorities.
After the young girl went missing April 15, her parents contacted the police immediately, but the police's investigation was painfully slow-moving. Two days later, neighbours discovered the girl's location after they could hear the child weeping. Her aggressors had left her to die in a locked room and allegedly tortured and raped her for 40 hours. When her parents rushed her to the hospital, the five year old girl was in a critical condition and medical tests showed that show evidence of "brutal sexual assault."
When the news of this violent gang rape went public on Friday, a demonstration was organized outside the hospital the young girl was being cared for in east Delhi. Camera footage shows a police officer violently hitting a female protester. Thankfully, he's been suspended and an inquiry has been initiated. Nonetheless, the fact that a member of the police would physically harm a woman during a protest calling for the end of men's violence against women is alarming.
Many protests erupted around government officials' residences as well. About 100 people gathered around the home of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's home and near the house of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the ruling Congress Party. 50 protesters were detained for trying to cross the barricaded fence set-up by the authorities. They have since been released.
Only four months after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in a bus in New Delhi, India's still trying to piece together an effective strategy to reduce the prevalence of men's violence against women. About a month ago, the state enacted stricter laws for rapists, including the death penalty for particularly violent rapes. Although these new legal regulations can help curtail the plight of sexual violence in India, many believe that much more needs to be done. "Enacting strong laws are simply a first step, but it needs the government to focus urgently on implementation if it is serious about protecting children and other victims of sexual abuse," said Meenakshi Ganguly, who is the South Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Laws aren't enough, especially if the police fails to enforce them. In this particular case, the police officers involved in the case are being placed under high public scrutiny. Many wonder why it took the police so long to properly investigate the case when the young girl was declared missing. Crimes against women and girls are often taken lightly by the police, who have notoriously trivialized them in the past.
More disturbingly, the parents of the victim are also reporting that the police offered them 2,000 rupees (approximately $39.64) in "tea money," a local term for a bribe, to stay silent about their daughter's rape. The police is not only responsible for mishandling cases that involve sexual violence, they may also be guilty of trying to cover them up. "Police and other officials that fail to do their jobs and instead engage in abusive behavior should know that they will be punished," said Ganguly. The parents of the young rape survivor have not yet commented on the case but her uncle told Zee Media that the bribe money "the cops gave us to keep quiet is kept with us. It is my brother."
One of the protestors, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, was shocked at the police's behavior. "The government should exercise its power in safeguarding its citizens, not use it against them," he said. "Even a small child doesn't feel safe in the capital anymore."
One suspect was arrested over the weekend and another has been placed in custody. They are now awaiting trial.
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