NEW DELHI: Before dying in a Singapore hospital, Delhi's 23-year-old rape victim stirred a billion people with her tragic story. A billion, who had always taken it lying down, told the elected representatives, bureaucrats and police, that their level of tolerance has been breached and a period of accountability has just dawned on India.
While fighting for her life, the victim stirred the population to junk their "chalta hai" attitude and protested loudly against the traditional apathy of politicians, police and judiciary towards rape victims.
The anger and gut-wrenching emotions, which found a vent in the brazen violation of the girl's modesty in a bus while being driven through Delhi's busy streets, had been on the boil for sometime, even though the media, executive, legislature and judiciary failed to sense it.
People were angry over the way governments have consciously maintained their studied silence to the most outrageous diktats of khap panchayats. They ranged from what the girls should wear and eat to they should not use mobile phones. Despite the criminal male chauvinism displayed by the khaps, few chief ministers found it necessary to order action against the khap leaders but in an appeasing tone termed them as social organizations!
When caste and religious vote banks dictate government's policy and action, the personal safety of individuals — be it woman or man — is of little concern to the authorities — be it police, bureaucracy, executive or judiciary.
Given the loud public outcry, the police within days arrested all the six accused who were all daily wagers. They got an orchestrated compliment from the Union home secretary for the prompt action.
Over 24,000 rape cases were registered across the country in 2011. Given the social stigma attached to a victim, majority do not even file a complaint with police. In how many of these 24,000-odd cases have the police arrested the accused promptly? Would they have registered an FIR and arrested the accused if a rape complaint involved the kith and kin of top politicians, bureaucrats or policemen? Don't we have the case of Odisha top cop's son who jumped parole after being convicted for raping a French national and still absconding?
Almost everyone, from Prime Minister downwards, promised prompt action and agreed to examine changes in law. Before television cameras, they displayed how deeply they have been moved by the sexual assault on the girl saying they too had daughters and sisters who could face a similar fate on Delhi roads.
The 24,000-odd who were raped and devastated both physically and mentally last year alone too were a daughter, a sister or wife to someone. Many a woman had been paraded naked in remote villages after being branded as witch. Parading a woman naked is as soul-degrading as rape. In some such cases, few were seen taking pictures in their mobile phones of hapless women. Were they arrested and tried in a court of law for extreme depravity and outraging the modesty of the woman along with those who forced her to walk without a stitch of cloth? How many of us bothered to protest at India Gate for those unfortunate girls? It did not touch the sinews of those in corridors of power either because the victims did not live close to Raisina Hills or Race Course Road.
Suddenly, there was an avalanche of protest after the Delhi gang-rape incident. It was long overdue. After the growing public anger instilled fear in the hearts of politicians and police, the judiciary too swung into action. It ordered fast tracking of the trial in the Delhi case. For the first time, a commoner's case will get priority in judiciary.
The sleepy village of Nithari, on the outskirts of the national Capital, which witnessed serial rapes-cum-murders and even cannibalism did not evoke the kind of outrage that we saw after the December 16 incident. The serial rapes and murders did not stir the government to mull changes in rape laws for those, who were brutalized and killed were the daughters of labourers, domestic helps or rickshaw-pullers. In nearly a dozen of these rape-cum-murder cases, trial is yet to be completed even after six years.
Average life of a civil suit is 15 years. But if Ambani brothers fight over division of family assets, the dispute assumes national significance. Even the apex court hears the parties day-to-day for months together. If this is the example set by the apex court, imagine the situation in trial courts?
The public outcry, loud protests at India Gate and angry reaction by netizens kept pressure on the government to ensure proper medical assistance to the victim and even airlifting her to Singapore for better treatment. Also by arresting the accused promptly and setting up fast-track courts, the executive and judiciary come together to provide fast relief to the victim.
In her death, the victim has set the benchmark for the executive and judiciary. Every rape victim in the country is entitled to the best of healthcare at government's expense. Police must arrest accused, irrespective of who he is and his connections. And the judiciary must fast track every rape case for speedy justice to the victim and society.
Justice will be done in the real sense, if the 24,000-odd victims of sexual assault last year, get all this within a month. Then, only one can say that people's voice has been heard by those who matter in executive and judiciary.