26/01/10

The Case of Sexual Abuse

The Ruchika case led to much discussion in the media and expression of disgust with the system. However, I sometimes felt that too many issues were collapsed together and there was insufficient attention paid to the question of how one might name this kind of abuse.
It seemed to me that the most important issue here was systematic abuse of authority to terrorize the girl and her family. The main issue is not simply that of molestation - I am not condoning molestation but I imagine that if this had been, say, a young boy of of 16 or 17 years of age, living in the neighborhood who had molested a girl of fourteen - there could be many ways in which she could have imagined protecting herself from him, including reporting to his parents or taking neighborhood action. It is the fact of a man who is so much older and in a position of authority that might have signaled to her that he could call her to his office when he wished, that no one could stand up to him and that every effort to protect herself would unleash further violence. this is what is at stake - it has to be named and punished by broadening the terms of the inquiry against Rathore and everyone who collaborated with him. I feel we need to distinguish between acts of molestation that are done by those in authority such as workplace superiors, teachers, representatives of the state such as policemen or administrative officers, as well as those within the family or kinship group who not only molest a girl but also use their superior authority to create a continuous regime of intimidation and fear. Further, since Ruchika was only fourteen years old, she should have come under some kind of law relating to child protective services. It seems to me that distinguishing the types of crime here would be very useful for purposes of criminal proceedings. Legislating that punishment for molestation should be equal to the punishment for rape does not seem to be the right direction - instead of child abuse should be named as such and made punishable reflecting the severity of what abuse of authority can do to a child.
Second, the media's attention and the intensity it generated was useful to the extent that it provided support to the family and her friend whose courage is to be admired in pursing the case . However, intensity of emotions will wax and wane - what is needed now is surely some watchdog body from the media and civil society representatives that the case will be pursued expeditiously and fairly. The law cannot produce punishment independent of evidence and surely the pressure should be on the investigating agencies to produce meticulous evidence. Unfortunately, forensic procedures are routinely compromised, evidence collection in which time is of the essence is allowed to lapse, and thus as some of us pointed out in a Lancet article last year - violence against women goes routinely unpunished because the grounds for prosecution are not assembled carefully. Yet, appeals to how rotten the system is should not be allowed to come in the way of justice for this case. A cool, dispassionate oversight on the case to see that investigating authorities do not get away with complete incompetence or worse, is required. I wonder if any such support groups have been, in fact been formed. and if LASSNET can set up a web site and on the ground support.

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