Last week’s barbaric rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in the innocuous village of Khopardi in Ahmednagar district, which was as brutal as that of Delhi’s Nirbhaya, received delayed attention from the state government and little attention from the national media. In fact, Salman Khan's abysmal remarks on rape got more attention than the plight of the victim in Khopardi. Her arms were broken, hair ripped-off and a stick inserted into her private parts. This one incident has resulted in girls abstaining from school as they have to walk five kilometres across the farm where the gory incident took place.
It has also, once again, raised the issue of women’s security in the progressive state of Maharashtra which prides itself in pioneering women’s reforms through education and widow re-marriage, since the late 18th century.
In 2011, the Akole village in Ahmednagar district witnessed the gang rape of two women; in 2006, the brutal gang rape and murders in Khairlanji village in Bhandara district created outrage, nationally; in 2001, the gang rape of three women by 12 men, in Kothewadi village from Ahmednagar district sent shock waves. In 2014, a gang of women took law in their hands and killed serial rapist and murderer Aku Yadav, in a Nagpur court, after they suffered torment of two decades from him, as he repeatedly got bail.
The urban areas are not spared either. In 2009, the gang rape and murder of young software techie, Nayana Pujari in Pune created a wave of fear amongst working women.
In fact, the 2014 (the 2015 report has yet not been uploaded) annual crime report by the CID, Maharashtra, shows that crime against teenage girls and women between 18 and 30 years, continues to be a serious affair, underscoring the neglect by the state government towards women safety. As per the report, 37% of crime against women comprises assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty, 13% is rape and 29% is cruelty inflicted on the woman by husband and relatives.
The report states: “there were 3438 cases of rape reported during 2014, which is an increase by 12.24% as compared to 2013. There were 3465 rape victims during 2014 as compared to 3084 rape victims during 2013. This shows an increase by 12.35%. Among them, 1269 (36.62%) were in the age group of 18-30 years, 731 (21.09%) were in the age group between 12-16 years, 628 (18.12%) were in the age group between 16-18 years, and 410 (11.83%) were in the age group between 30-45 years. This reflects a partly increase in the number of rape victims in the age group of 18-30, which shows an increase by 06.46% during 2014 as compared to 2013. In 2014, the incidences of Molestation cases in the State have increased by 22.98% as compared to 2013.’’
Statistics hide more than they tell, especially the physical and social stigma victims suffer as well as fear political backlash. In all the major episodes of rape and murder in Maharashtra, the indifference in police action, delay in investigations, the alleged involvement of local political leaders and police in the crime, caste-focused hue and cry and a ‘Band-Aid’ kind of approach by the state government has been the notorious trend.
States Trupti Desai, who pioneers the right to pray for women, in temples, “The victim’s mother is agonized and inconsolable due to the brutality of the three rapists and murderers. Her daughter was a kabaddi player and in order to nullify her resistance which she must have shown, they broke off her hands and pulled out her hair from her head. They even gagged her with handkerchiefs which they pushed down till her throat. And yet, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis did not think it important to visit the family. However, he was quick enough to defend the local MLA, in the Assembly, whose photograph with the main accused in this brutal rape and murder, went viral on social media.’’
The criticism against his alleged indifference has propelled Fadnavis to appoint the high profile, Special Public Prosecutor, Ujwal Nikam to fight the case in a fast track court. Social Reformer Anna Hazare, has described the incident as a “a hideous blot on the social fabric.”. He has demanded quick investigation through a fast track court and capital punishment for the culprits. For many women this sounds more like the same as rapes and ignominy is heaped on them.
While the regional media hype has brought the crime to the centre stage of Maharashtra’s politics, it has remained a political slugfest. Leading politicians of the former Cong-NCP regime, who did little to contain crimes against women, are blaming the BJP-SS ruling government for negligence in taking prompt action. In fact, political leaders across party lines, who were trying hard to bring out the caste factor, have now been forced to keep quiet. Initially, it was thought that the victim belonged to the Dalit community. Soon, it came to light that she was from the Maratha community while the three accused belong to the Dalit community. Caste-math kicked in.
Further, several women activists have no faith in the police. The reason being, the security guard who was charged with murder and molestation of young lawyer Pallavi Purkayastha in 2014, in a posh flat in Mumbai, is serving life sentence in Nashik Road Jail. However, he has jumped parole and is missing since May this year.
Women, especially working women, hold up half the sky in Maharashtra, India's economic power engine. But the attitude of the state to repeated rapes and gang-rapes leads one to ask - does anybody care?