The Badaun Rape Case: A case of misplaced justice

Source: Hindustan Times

It is a known fact that women in India are not safe. For decades now, crime statistics have shown that women in India are likely to face all kinds of danger and violation in both the public and private sphere. Nine years after the Nirbhaya rape case, we still haven't made much progress when it comes to ensuring the dignity and bodily autonomy of women in this country.

On January 3, a 50 year old woman who worked as an Anganwadi worker in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh had gone to a temple and was later found dead under mysterious circumstances. The post-mortem report had confirmed rape, a fractured leg, broken rib cage and other injuries, according to the local police. The victim's family members accused the temple priest and his aides of committing the rape and then killing the woman. The family members of the victim told The Print that when she did not return from the temple even after two to three hours had passed, they grew worried. She was finally brought back home- severely injured- by the three accused men, late at night. The priest had reportedly informed the family that she had been injured because she fell into a well. The priest and his aides drove off in their car before the family could react or ask any further questions. Soon, the woman succumbed to her injuries.

The victim's family also alleged that the local police were not proactive and did not react swiftly to the situation at hand. A station house officer at Ughaiti was suspended after the family's allegations of police negligence came to light. The FIR was registered only two days after the autopsy confirmed rape and the two accomplices of the priest were nabbed. It took the police nearly a week to track down the priest, Satyanarayan, who had been hiding in the house of his follower in a village under Ughaiti police. The two accomplices were arrested a day before.

The case triggered an outcry from the Opposition parties and members of civil society, who accused the Uttar Pradesh government of failing to ensure the safety of women in the state. Members of the Opposition compared this incident to the 2012 gang-rape of Jyoti Singh, popularly called Nirbhaya. The Congress party's general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra criticized the Uttar Pradesh government in harsh terms. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took cognizance of the incident and ordered "strongest possible action" in the case.

This incident was the latest in a series of crimes against women reported in Uttar Pradesh, a state that topped in crimes against women in 2019 with a whopping 59,853 cases, according to NCRB data.

The National Commission for Women too took note of the incident and decided to send a team to probe the situation. Chandramukhi Devi, one of the members of the NCW who had been sent to assess the situation and meet the victim's kin said that the gang-rape and murder incident could have been avoided had the 50 year old woman not ventured out late in the evening. Speaking to the media after visiting the deceased woman's family, she said,"Even under any influence, a woman should keep track of time, and should not venture out late. Perhaps, had the victim not gone out in the evening, or gone along with a family member, she could have been saved.” Her controversial statement drew sharp criticism from all corners of the country, as well as a public clarification from the NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma who said that she does not know 'how and why the member has said this…'

The facts of this particular case point to the dismal situation when it comes to women's safety in the country. The statement made by the NCW member is indicative of society's attitude towards victims of sexual violence. Her statement makes it clear that the onus lies solely on the woman to ensure that she doesn't get raped or assaulted. We forget that rapes happen because rapists exist and instead blame victims for the horrific fate that befalls them. Additionally, instead of working towards making all spaces safe for women,

our understanding of women's safety continues to be informed by the patriarchal tendency to restrict women's movement and agency in the name of protecting their honour. We cannot end sexual violence against women unless we address these structural issues first.

- Sanjukta Bose

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