A 13-year-old girl who had come to Umaria to meet her mother was abducted and raped by two youths and later the numbers of rapists mounted to nine as a dhaba owner, truck drivers and others raped the hapless minor one-by-one. The police later arrested the rapists.
A 45-year-old widowed slum dweller in Sidhi district was sexually assaulted by four men and the rapists also inserted an iron rod in the private part of the woman leaving her grievously injured. Police later arrested all the four.
A 15-year-old boy abducted and raped a nine-year-old female neighbour in Singrauli district. The youth left the unconscious girl after raping her and fled the spot. The girl was later rushed to hospital by family and the police nabbed the youth.
These are only some of the horrific incidents of sexual assault and rape in Madhya Pradesh in the month of January, 2021. The central Indian state already bears the stigma of being the most unsafe — recording the highest number of rape cases for three consecutive starting from year 2016. A report from National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) released in January 2020 showed that Madhya Pradesh had the highest number of rape cases in India, with 5,433 rape cases, accounting for 16% of the 33,356 rape cases reported in India, in 2018. In 2017, the state saw 5,562 cases and 4,882 rape cases reported in year 2016. NCRB is yet to release an annual report in 2021.
Alarming spurt in crimes against women
There has been an alarming spurt in sexual assault cases in Madhya Pradesh in year 2021. Besides the cases mentioned above, a 36-year-old man raped his daughter’s 14-year-old friend and tried to bury her alive by hiding her body under stones and bushes in Betul district on January 19. The grievously injured girl was later rushed to hospital by family.
A girl, studying in Class 8, was on her way back to home from coaching in Mandsaur district on January 22 when she was abducted and raped by two people, including a minor boy. Both of them were arrested after a complaint from the girl.
On January 21, a 15-year-old girl had complained to the police in Indore that she was drugged, intoxicated and gang raped by many men for two months. A woman who was aiding the rapists also tried pushing the girl into drug trafficking.
In yet another case, a 17-year-old rape survivor, who was kept in a shelter home in Bhopal, died on January 20 allegedly due to an overdose of sleeping pills. The girl was kept at the shelter home along with other rape survivors connected to scribe Pyare Miyan sexual exploitation case.
A controversy erupted after the girl’s family alleged that their daughter had been poisoned and on January 22, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ordered a probe by a Special Investigation Team .
Chouhan has repeatedly warned of stringent action against the accused and the police have been taking prompt action in such cases. But these steps have not deterred offenders. Several women politicians from the state, off the record, accepted that the situation in Madhya Pradesh was alarming.
Women political leaders worried
On Friday, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Uma Bharti said that consumption of alcohol led to the increase of rape cases and said that the lockdown had shown people would be able to survive without it. Bharti said, “ Lockdown has shown that none dies for not consuming liquor.”
Congress spokesperson Aparajita Pandey said that it was up to the government to “set up norms for the society to follow”. She said, “If the BJP knows who is eating what in their homes, who is marrying whom and who is going out with whom, then the state government should also work for women safety.”
She demanded effective surveillance by the police, fast track investigation, utilization of the Nirbhaya Fund by states, no shielding of culprits no matter how influential they are and counseling of women by women police officers, among other things, as measures that must be taken.
Amiti Pandey, a woman leader of the Youth Congress said, “ As the sexual assaults are continuing in MP unabated, we are only seeing statements, formation of committees and big sized advertisements from the BJP government.”
BJP spokesperson Neha Bagga listed efforts taken by the state government for women safety, but said that while women are taught to behave in society, it was imperative that men should also work on their mental health and approach towards women.
“The Pankh yojana for protection, awareness, nutrition, knowledge, health and hygiene (for women) is being implemented by the state government. Recently a ‘Samman event’ was organised to felicitate warriors who stood up for women’s dignity,” she said.
Madhya Pradesh has also initiated fast track courts in rape cases and was the first state to propose capital punishment for rapists, added Bagga saying, the FIR registration at doorstep is also helping women come forward with the complaints.
As the women in the state continue to face crimes, the Madhya Pradesh State Women’s Commission — the all-important watchdog shouldering the responsibility on women safety — is embroiled in a legal battle with the Shivraj Chouhan government. Senior politician Shobha Oza was appointed as the head of the commission by the Kamal Nath government, but Chouhan’s government initiated a process to get her removed from the office. Oza moved the high court against the attempt.
“The HC in the past had ordered the status quo but the BJP government isn’t allowing us to function,” said Oza claiming that her chamber is open, but most of others are locked by the administration and support staff isn’t allowed to work.
She said that the hands of the commission were tied by the state government even though the state had the highest crimes against women.
Expert says ‘gender sensitivity’ must be taught in schools
Professor Asha Shukla, vice chancellor of Dr. B R Ambedkar University of Social Sciences, spoke to News18.com on the growing distortion in society especially towards women. She said “More than anything else, society needs to work on gender sensitivity from the grassroots. When we start identifying ourselves in brackets of men and women, humanity takes a backseat.”
“A man with proper upbringing, family values and a proper mindset is least likely to indulge in sexual assaults,” she added claiming mental distortion comes from issues ranging from porn content on the internet, troubled family history and so on. “If the child sees domestic violence against women, females being abused regularly or females given a lesser status in family, he is more likely to not respect women in his life,” she said.
Pros Shukla said that gender disparity is deeply etched in our society and it’s also linked to rituals for example a son is entitled to light the funeral pyre of parents and not the daughter. Plus, social approach towards women victims is negative as she has to go through a lengthy legal process of getting justice in cases of rapes and in between she is branded more as a criminal herself and not the victim. “Even the most talked about Nirbhaya case required years so that the offenders were hanged,” she said.
Shukla said she has that gender sensitivity should be inculcated right from the grassroots and should be a part of the school curriculum. She said she had prepared a syllabus on ‘gender sensitivity’ during her stint as head of the Women Study Department at Barkatullah University Bhopal that has now gotten approved at the BR Ambedkar University at different levels and the course content will now be forwarded to co-ordination committee for final approval. Additionally, under her tenure as the vice chancellor, a Gender Studies department has been initiated at the university, a year ago.