The news about the appalling murder of a baby in Gurugram, Haryana, was startling in the extreme. News reports say that the 8-month old baby and her 19-year old mother were abducted by three men in a pick-up. The mother was gang-raped by all of them, and when the baby bawled, one of the men casually picked her up and threw her on the concrete divider on the road, presumably wounding her mortally. Some reports say the three men smothered the the baby when she bawled. Finding her dead, they threw her on the concrete road divider. Then they abandoned mother and baby, and drove off.
The mother walked miles with the dead baby in her arms, refusing to believe she was dead. She went to a hospital where the doctor pronounced the baby dead. In her grief, she refused to accept this judgment, and went to a second hospital. After grieving all night over her baby, she finally had to accept that the child had been cruelly murdered.
It is tempting to attribute it to the general callousness to human -- especially female -- life that seems to afflict the environs of Delhi. Of course all of us remember the sad case of Jyoti Singh Pandey and how she was gang raped and then disembowelled with an iron rod forcibly stuck into her vagina, and how the most vicious of the criminals then walked away with the ‘minor’ defence.
But the fact is there are parallels elsewhere. Just a month of two ago, several communists attacked a car belonging to a BJP activist in Kerala, and casually threw his 10-month-old baby out of the window. So it’s not as though this type of monstrous behaviour is somehow confined to a geographical area: it is seen across the country.
We are also inured to violence against women, and the draconian laws to protect women seem to have neither deterrent nor legal effect. Remember, for instance, the gang rape of a mother and daughter traveling on a highway just a few weeks ago. A schoolteacher aged 55 was raped and murdered just days ago. In May, a man was sentenced to hang for luring a 4-year old girl with chocolate, raping her and then crushing her head with a stone.
There was the horrifying murder in Kerala of Sowmya who was chased around and pushed off a train, raped on the tracks and then had her head crushed with a stone by a one-armed beggar named Charly Thomas. In a legal miracle, this itinerant beggar was able to hire an expensive, hot-shot lawyer who got his death sentence turned into life imprisonment (and surely remission and release in some general amnesty down the road).
Then there was Jisha, a Scheduled Caste law student who was brutally tortured, with her intestines spilling out from a blow from a blunt instrument, and her genitals slashed with a knife. It is rumored that it was a politically motivated crime, because her biological father, a prominent politician, did not want her to demand a share of his property. The case has been ‘solved’ by finding, without much evidence, a migrant labourer to take the blame.
With crimes like these rampant, we have to wonder: Is it that modern Indians have become abysmally cruel towards women and towards children in particular? Or is it just that these crimes are now better reported? Of small comfort is the fact that per capita violence against women is much lower in India than in, say, the US: it is just that the scale of population in India means that the absolute numbers are high.
But I have to believe that violence against children is a new -- and appalling -- trend. Indians on average have tended to be indulgent of children, although that only applies to one’s own, and most of us have tolerated child-labourers in restaurants, homes and building sites. But to casually murder or injure a baby just because it belongs to a woman you’re about to rape, or to a political rival, is a new low in the coarsening of the Indian mind.
I wonder if this has to do with drugs or alcohol. Drunk people obviously lose their inhibitions, and those on hard mind-altering drugs live in an altered state of reality. Ideological extremism works exactly like a mind-altering drug, and it probably is easy to demonise opponents as ‘the enemy’. We see that in the systematic and regular attacks by communists in Kerala, in their absolute disdain for Hindu sentiments (as in the recent cow-killing episodes), and in their willingness to use violence as though the Other were just vermin to be exterminated.
There is also the other side: would-be criminals know that because the justice system is so cumbersome that is no deterrent. Political operatives know that even if they are convicted of horrific offences -- for instance, a middle-aged woman was raped to death with a broom-handle inside a Congress party office in Kerala -- their godfathers will be able to bail them out eventually.
(Rajeev Srinivasan, a management professional, is a popular blogger on current affairs.)
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