The grotesque sexual assault on an eight-month-old baby in Delhi is the latest in a series of rapes that has prompted serious soul-searching as to why authorities are failing to protect women and girls.
A 28-year-old man has been arrested in the Indian capital on charges of raping his eight-month-old female cousin.
“The man has confessed, he was drunk when he attacked the girl,” a senior police officer said on Tuesday. The incident happened at her home in Delhi on Sunday, and marks the latest such case in a country notorious for high levels of sexual violence.
Delhi Commission of Women chief Swati Maliwal visited the child in hospital on Monday night and tweeted that her injuries were “horrific.”
The child’s parents had gone to work leaving their daughter in the care of their sister-in-law, police said. It was the sister-in-law’s son who raped the child. When the mother returned from work, she found her daughter lying unconscious in a pool of blood, Indian news agency IANS reported, citing police investigators.
The mother who works as a domestic help called her husband, a daily wage laborer, and they took the child to hospital where it was found that she was sexually assaulted. Investigations pointed to the child’s cousin as the assaulter.
A case has been registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act. Maliwal said the child underwent three hours of surgery. “She suffered inhuman injuries to internal organs,” Maliwal tweeted in Hindi. “When will things change?”
The incident comes at a time when a series of sexual assault cases have already thrust into focus the utter lack of protection for Indian women and girls, both in public and private spaces. Over the past several weeks, multiple assaults on women and girls have been reported from five towns in India’s northern state of Haryana. The crude and frighteningly brutal nature of these attacks had already had Indian society reeling in shock and despair at its inability to prevent such crimes.
Pervasive sexual assault
Brutal rapes have been reported in India on a near-daily basis and reports of ghastly sexual assaults have risen in recent years.
“This is complete lawlessness in Haryana and a war on women,” senior Indian National Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala recently told DW.
“And these crimes are happening when the state is celebrating its highest-ever gender ratio of 914 girls per 1,000 boys. What a travesty!” Surjewala said.
Sexual assault crimes are not new to India, which is still a deeply conservative and patriarchal society where many families prefer sons over daughters. In fact, India’s government said Monday that more than 63 million women and girls are statistically “missing” by being deprived of food, health care and schooling.
Officials also said Indian families have more than 21 million unwanted girls, a calculation based on analyzing the gender of last-born children.
India bans gender-selective abortions, but the practice of aborting female fetuses persists. The birth of a son is celebrated, while a daughter’s birth can be a time of mourning, as parents fear the debts they’ll incur for marriage dowries.
“Girls are threatened before they are born, and every second after they are born. It is a living hell and male attitudes toward them have not helped,” lawyer and activist Seema Misra told DW.
“Abuse, molestation, torture and rape of girls have become the sad order of the day, which has shamed humanity,” rights activist Kavita Krishnan told DW. “The entrenched violence against women and the failure of authorities to protect them is sad,” she said.
Problems with the ‘official’ mindset
In the midst of this outrage over the savage rapes and killings, statements by authorities have only added fuel to the fire. RC Mishra, a director general of police, stoked controversy with comments about the rape-murders, which were construed as being insensitive.
“It’s part of society. Such incidents have been taking place forever,” Mishra reportedly told an Indian news agency.
Even politicians like Haryana state’s Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar have made sexist and misogynistic comments in the past, raising doubts about their resolve to tackle the problem of acute insecurity faced by women in the country.
In 2014, before he became chief minister, Khattar told an election rally, “If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way. If they want freedom, why don’t they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are Western influences. Our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.”
India recorded more than 36,000 cases of rape, sexual assault and similar offences against children under the POCSO Act in 2016, according to data available with India’s National Crime Records Bureau. It’s unclear whether the series of attacks in recent weeks will prompt authorities to do some soul-searching regarding their failure in this area and mull over how they could best ensure safety for women and girls in India.