by Shefan Jahan Gazi
“Man is the only animal that blushes or needs to!”
The incidents of the bygone months in Kashmir make one blush at the pathological state of our social system and the frailty of our morality. Last year a man from Shopian was caught while trying to bury a new born in the graveyard.
In January 2019, another new born baby girl was found dead in a cardboard box near a maternity hospital in Srinagar.
The debate about female infanticide had just started in Kashmir when one more horrendous incident came to fore.
A teenage girl from Bandipora committed suicide after her father ravished her honour for years. The incident came to light only after her younger sister raised an alarm. The evil father had tried to rape his younger daughter too.
A similar case was reported from frontier town of Uri, where step brothers raped their young sister.
The small and conservative society of ours was yet to come to terms with these incidents, when two more horrific cases were reported from Bandipora and Ganderbal.
A few years back such incidents involving local culprits were unusual and rare in our society, even though women and children were continuously victimized during all these years of conflict. Kunan-Poshpora, Nelofar and Asiya are cases in point.
Every time a girl or a woman is raped it shocks and shames us. But when the victim is barely a 3-year-old girl, a little chirpy lovable child, it not just shocks and shames, but actually ravishes and rapes our collective conscience.
The child from Bandipora, whom I will call Sualiha is just in her lamb days. Her photographs and videos went viral on the social media, thanks to our insensitive news hungry nature.
We have done great disservice to the little girl who cannot be blamed for the situation.
Remonstrance is necessary; reporting a horrible crime is important but within the borders of sensitivities.
Owing to the posts on the social media sectarian strife became rife, thanks to some ill informed people from both the sects who see it as a crime of prejudice. Frankly, such un-reason can only lead to polarization of the people and the politicization of the crime.
We as a society need to put up a brave face together and fight the malaise within the social firmament which has been torn into shreds by these increasing horrendous incidents.
For now the clamour of violent protests has quietened, but the efforts to project it merely as a property dispute has made a pawn out of the minor victim, and shows how regressive and misogynist we are. We tend to ignore the situation of the minor, who is unaware of all the current affairs. Our patriarchal system is unforgiving. From Unnao (in UP) to Kathua, from Uri to Bandipora distances don’t matter, regions don’t matter, religion and sect doesn’t matter.
Yes! The safety of the daughters in the society is now a grave concern. Nowhere is totally safe. When the protector becomes the predator, and if the neighbourhood boy next doors’ lures the baby away with candies to satiate his lust in a school washroom, it becomes a stark moment for us as a society to introspect, and look inwards too.
It is a bitter but an unfortunate truth that the state of the daughters is becoming pathetically unsafe. And, the pain of privation is that of the daughter’s alone! For any such daughter who is exposed to sexual activity at such a tender age, the lingering memory will be too painful and debilitating to endure with. Rape is an existential taboo.
I believe we do owe Sualiha an apology for exposing her so indiscriminately to the media glare, and thereby scandalizing her. This is an unforgiving society; Kunan-Poshpora is a case on the point.
Furthermore, we need to work on the moral and ethical grooming in order to cultivate early the aesthetic impulse of morality in our children to build an equitable social system, based on social sensitivity with corrective capacity.
A boy who learns to show respect to his mother and other womenfolk in the family will carry forward the same attitude in the outside world, and be respectful towards other females of the society. It is therefore obligatory to teach values to the boys from a younger age, but in our patriarchal system such values and obligations are often trifled.
In general violence against children is pandemic and an unreported reality and therefore, poses a serious challenge to be combated on a war footing. Both genders of children are the most vulnerable victims of sexual abuse, and need to be comforted, counselled and supported so as to draw them out of this traumatic experience. We also need to morally support the families of such victims to strengthen them against being stigmatized and ostracized. By sensitizing the society we must ensure that the education and the future life of such victim children are not jeopardized.
It’s also utmost important to see that justice is ultimately done to the victims. The enforcement agencies and the judiciary have a significant role to play. When a criminal gets away due to lacunas in the case and due to inefficient pleading, it breeds a perception of permission to such horrifying crimes. Hopefully, Sualiha’s case will be tried under POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences) Act which is a robust statutory mechanism to prevent such offences, and provides stringent punishment to the offenders for aggravated sexual offences where the victim is below 12-years of age.
There is a provision for legal aid too, though not so significant, and the trial is to be concluded within a year from the date of the cognizance of the offence.
Appropriate laws are in place, but the onus is on us as a society to provide our children a happy and fear free childhood. There has to be a clear concerted and a collective effort to update our education systems and include educative awareness in the curriculum; moreover sensitize reporting, specifically on the social media so as to pave way for the much needed remedial measures.
We cannot afford to be bystanders to such crimes. Our watchfulness today is an investment for tomorrow.
(The author is a practising advocate at J&K High Court, Srinagar.)