Today marks the first anniversary of the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme. It was launched by the Modi government on 22 January 2015 in a bid to tackle India’s abysmally low child sex ratio. This article seeks to question if education for many young girls is still a tough battle given the rising instances of crimes against women.
She was a young girl of 17 who had dreams of making it big. Every day she would walk to school in pursuit of her dreams. But little did she know that while the country may have embraced the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ slogan to prevent female foeticide and educate the girl child, the conditions are far from conducive for most girls pursuing an education.
Every day lakhs of them face harassment on their way to school and back. And this teenage girl was one of the victims.
After three men began harassing and stalking her, the girl took her family into confidence and complained to the police. Her brother said the men would accost her and tell her to accompany them in their car or face abduction, rape and social ostracisation.
However, keen not to add to the crime chart, the police decided not to take action against the culprits.
The young girl ended her life in sheer frustration and fear.
Why Did the Police Not Act?
The police should have booked the accused under Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code. The provision has been introduced in the IPC by Parliament through the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2013 to deal with harassment faced by women.
Stalking, under this law, is punishable with a three year sentence for the first offence and for five years for a subsequent offence. The law can be invoked against “any man who —
(i) follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or
(ii) monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking.”
The question remains why the police chose not to act on the girl’s complaint.
Brushing Cases Under the Carpet
The answer probably lies in the warped manner the country looks at its crime graph and here the National Crime Records Bureau under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs is clearly to be blamed.
Every year when the NCRB comes out with its crime report, it takes into account the number of complaints registered. This ultimately leads to a situation in which states, districts and police stations not registering reports are better placed on the graph. Honest cops who report and register cases of stalking are chastised for the high crime rate. There is a tendency among police personnel to not register crime to keep their books clean. Also, this saves them from a lot of investigation and court work.
The media is also to be blamed for not questioning why arrests or conviction rates are made benchmarks.
In the absence of proper registration of cases, there is no empirical data in India on the actual number of cases of stalking and harassment. With the courts also lenient in granting bails and paroles, the fear of the law is diminishing.
Need of the Hour
In August this year, a 16-year-old schoolgirl was allegedly abducted while she was waiting for her school bus in Gurgaon and taken in a van to Manesar by four of her classmates, who raped her there. All the accused happened to be juveniles and thus would get away without severe punishment.
In another incident in Gurgaon, a student of Class IX was similarly abducted in an autorickshaw by the driver and three of her classmates and gang-raped in a secluded area. Her classmates again were all juveniles.
A court in Kashmir recently awarded death sentence for the abduction, gang-rape and brutal murder of a 13-year-old school girl in the Langate area eight years ago. The victim, a Class VIII student, was on her way back home from school when she was targeted. A bravery award was subsequently instituted in her name.
The need of the hour is not to merely institute awards, but to make the laws more stringent, the registration of complaints easier, the prosecution faster and justice speedier so that stalkers and rapists may think several times over before committing a crime, and if they do, it should be their last.
(The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist)