Capital can't protect its young

What has happened to society,” says Sunita, a neighbour of the girl who was gang-raped on October 16 by three men, also from the same locality. “A five-year-old girl doesn’t even understand the meaning of rape and still she was subjected to it.’’

“It could have happened to my children also. If you can rape a girl of your own daughter’s age, you can do anything,” she says, throwing her protective arms around her two daughters.

A colony of mostly migrant labourers, Anand Vihar’s JJ camp is home to thousands. In one of the buildings in D-block, lives the family of the victim. “Now we fear to let our children alone in the house. We can’t trust anyone here,” says 45-year-old Raghav, another neighbour of the family.

The girl’s father is a labourer and mother works as a domestic help. They are out most of the day, which leaves their kids alone when they come back from school.

“All the tenants in the building work either as labourers or as household helps in nearby colonies. When the incident took place, except for the siblings who had returned from school in the afternoon, no one was there,” says Raghav.

He talks about one of the alleged rapists. “I have never had any problems with Prakash. He had been living here for one month only. Perhaps, under the influence of liquor he was possessed by a devil and did the act. He knew the girl was alone in the building and lured her upstairs and raped her,” Raghav adds.

Prakash, 39, lived on the second floor of the same building with his wife and three children. Ironically, the children who raised an alarm included Prakash’s own son who was playing with the other kids on the stairs.

“The children were playing here and heard the girl’s cries. Out of fear they also started to shout, which made the perpetrators let the victim go,” says Paras, a local resident. After that neighbours saw the girl running out of the building.

“As soon as she ran outside the building, she fainted on the ground. Then some people noticed that the child was bleeding from her private parts, with stains of bloods smeared on her dress. Water was sprinkled on her to wake her up,” Paras recalls.

In a few minutes, she regained consciousness and named Prakash as the perpetrator, which incensed the crowd and angry men and women barged into Prakash’s room dragging him out of the building and thrashing him.

According to Parshuram Rajak, an NGO worker and a resident of the colony, most people in the locality are migrant labourers from different parts of the country. Unlike a village, where people know each other and are bound by a common thread of shared culture, here people are busy in their own world.

“All types of drugs and liquor are freely available here,” says Rajak, hinting at this to be one of the reasons for sexual violence. Something has to be done urgently, he says.

Another minor girl, a two-and-a-half-year-old from Nihal Vihar in west Delhi, was also gang-raped on the same day. The child was abducted, assaulted by two of her juvenile neighbours, and then dumped in a park near her house. The two rapes created a political uproar.

Police version

Police, however, claim that rapes against minors have come down in 2015 when compared to last year. Data shows that 85 cases were registered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in the capital till September 30, 2014. This year, police have registered 69 cases so far. Overall, 1,750 cases of rape have been reported in the capital this year till October 15.

The data also reveals that over 90 per cent of minor rape victims in Delhi were abducted from near their house by their neighbours or tenants. Over 85 per cent of them were raped in houses or in jhuggis where the accused were known to the victim. Across the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, about 60 per cent of rape cases were reported from the poorer strata of the society.

“As these crimes occur within the confines of closed walls, there is very little that we can do to prevent them,” says Senior Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Deepak Mishra. Police say most of the suspects are found to be temporary residents of the locality and flee after committing the crime.

Officials feel police verification will act as a deterrent and create the fear of law in a tenant. It also means that police will have the basic details they need immediately after a crime. For landlords, it helps to know if the tenant has had any criminal history.

“The landlord must keep a watch on visitors and report any suspicious activities. They should also enquire about the tenant’s work and family members or relatives in and around the capital,” Mishra adds. Police claim they regularly carry out drives to educate or prosecute house owners and tenants found to be staying without police verification. However, police have been able to verify only around 3,600 of the 1.08 lakh applications they received till September 30 this year. Officers cited staff crunch and work overload as a major reason behind the delay in the process.
Another reason is delay in response from police of other states.

“Most of the tenant applications are of people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and other states in south India. We promptly approach local police after receiving an application, but the local police there have to verify the details and revert. This takes a lot of time, sometimes even months,” says Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat.

Senior police officers agree that they need to put in more effort into this. Facing criticism over the rapes of minors, Delhi Police Commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi has also suggested that crèches could solve the issue of unattended children of those working in the unorganised sector. In a letter to Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Bassi wrote that the solution lay only with the government and society. “Delhi Police has been and will continue to provide support to such steps,” he says.

Bassi pointed out that in the Anand Vihar gang rape case, the girl was left unattended at home by her working parents. He says toddlers being left behind by their parents were the norm in many economically weaker sections of the society and yet building sufficient crèches was nowhere in the schemes of things for the poor. “I request that crèches be constructed on a war footing in Delhi in view of the large number of working women here so that no parent is forced to leave their child unattended,” Bassi wrote.

Among his other suggestions to Delhi government is to initiate moral education for boys in Delhi’s schools and colleges. “School dropouts too should be identified and treated by psychologists for rehabilitation,” Bassi recommended.

Delhi Police claim that 244 juveniles have been involved in crimes under POCSO Act since 2013 of whom 158 were chargesheeted. The courts have convicted three while the rest are pending trial. About 20 per cent of criminals involved in sexually abusing children were found to be juveniles.  

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