Many thoughts crisscross my mind as I read about the rape of the child from Kathua. It was sometime before I decided to write when the memories started coming back. Victims and their sufferings leave you with a voice that doesn’t die.
My thoughts here are a little random, a little fragmented. It happens each time when I start to think of victims from the past and my engagement to the issue. So I pen them as they arise and hope the reader will understand.
I have worked with survivors of sexual assault for over twenty years as part of a project to provide support after trauma. Every day without exception there were a number of children who would be referred to our organization. Standing order 303 in the year 2002 of Delhi police stated that all cases of heinous crimes in the capital have to be referred to our organization without delay. It continued for many years.
A majority of whom we counseled were children, sometimes as young as one. In rape, there is no age limit by the perpetrator. The rapes are by and large brutal and homicide is common. It was as if they hated the children and even themselves for the abominable act and brought out their inner hatred and disgust after committing the crime.
Many times I had to do what became a dying declaration as the child didn’t survive the brutal assault. Many doctors and police officers who couldn’t see this shared it was better that the child went because what is life after such a brutal assault and pain, they would ask. I never agreed with that. It reflects a failure on the part of the society.
Prior to working with sexually abused children, I had worked with virtually almost every kind of trauma and suffering that the human condition entails. I had worked with schizophrenics, terminally ill children, people who had undergone brutal torture. Yet as I worked with child survivors of rape, I found a difference. I was engulfed with overwhelming emotions I didn’t feel before. And I found it difficult to look in the eyes of the child and continue talking something that had never happened to me as a professional. I began to wonder why I, a therapist with years of experience all over the world, would be facing this. Eye contact, empathy and building a bond had never been an issue for me. I had been able to look with compassion at almost everyone I worked with but when I looked in the eyes of these children I felt lost and a depression that arose within me each time almost destroying me as if their pain was something I was unable to distance myself from. I even wondered whether it was my guilt or shame because I was a man and was feeling so on behalf of all men.
What I discovered with my supervisor that it was none of the above. I realized by looking into the eyes of these children, I was facing something I hadn’t felt before and that was as if the very soul of the person I could see in the eyes of the child, battered and asking for help. It was as if the assault had destroyed a very basic entity in her that was destroyed permanently and I was helpless with all my words, my compassion that I had learnt, that wouldn’t even touch that loss. I wanted to leave that work because I felt helpless as I felt being of little use to the survivors. It was something I talked to colleagues who worked with survivors of sexual assault. The answer was the same. They had all felt like me.
It was then that our organization was referred a case from south west of Delhi by Delhi police. It was a case of gang rape of a very young girl from a rural area of Delhi and three men were accused of the rape. The girl was traumatized and gone silent. “Would you talk to her and help her with the trauma?” the police official asked us.
We found a traumatized girl waiting for us at our office brought by two women constables. Angry villagers had surrounded the police station and her home demanding justice we were told.
As our psychologist talked to her, she found almost every classic symptom of PTSD in her. She opened up over several sessions and told us of the brutal rape that she had undergone. There were three men who had accosted her on way to her school and then taken her to a tin shed and raped her. She was like a stone when she narrated the incident. Contrary to what is portrayed in media and movies, survivors rarely scream and shout but speak haltingly often lapsing into silence. There was no doubt that she was the victim of a brutal gang rape. But there was something else that puzzled us and didn’t make sense. Parts of her narrative were spoken very much unlike a traumatized person, especially when she mentioned the names of the men who raped her.
As what happens in many interviews with children, contradictions and inconsistencies begin to emerge. As she began to share about the event and her feelings, she began to fall apart. Feeling safe with us, she shared that she was raped but not by the persons she mentioned, but it was a different group of men.
“What made you tell the truth?”
A child who hadn’t yet stepped into adulthood replied, “Takleef ho rahi thi man me un logo ka naam lete hue.” (I was feeling pain in my heart by naming these people).
The DCP of the area told me later, “We had guessed she was framing up someone. But rape cases are so sensitive that we are scared of doing anything even if we see inconsistencies. Do you know I am dealing with at least five organizations who are on dharna (protest) saying we are hiding the culprits. We just decided to leave it to the courts.”
The real culprits confessed to the crime after the girl gave the clues about the men she had held back so far. Next day a couple of musclemen led by a Headman came to our office. They asked us why we had forced the girl to change the names of the accused and asked us to take it back. We refused and held our ground. They left but not without threatening us.
This case, reflecting countless other cases we saw, taught us several important lessons:
Political interference to police as whether to lodge or proceed in a case is routine in India. Police in many sensitive cases take directions from their political masters and the system is entrenched.
As a result framing of people is more common than we know and often routine in rape cases. Sometimes it can be a way to settle old scores.
Investigations in rape cases by and large are not done with a goal of searching for the truth but to appease sentiments of communities and taking into account political climate.
There is no rudimentary database about pedophiles and their behavioral characteristics so necessary for investigating behavioral crimes. As a result, such cases being highly complex and sensitive lead to frequent miscarriages of justice.
Another lesson learnt while dealing with sexual assault cases was that many a rape case is made into a political issue. At a vulnerable time, the trauma of the girl is used to change the political, social narrative in a community, often in highly planned and organized way. The community of the accused can be shamed and ostracized and who may run away from their homes and land and the community of the victim gains through this.
A teenage girl was found roaming around the border of Delhi in a disheveled condition. The police took her for questioning where she shared she had been sexually assaulted while living in a neighboring state.
The police had contacted us and we had gone to meet her. Talking to her, it slowly emerged it was a story of sexual assault by several men from a particular community in that area. She had run away feeling ashamed and ostracized. As we helped her to give a statement, I was joined by the DGP. He read it minutely. He commended me on our work. But something else happened. In between there was a call for him and he hurriedly ran to take it. When he came back he was visibly upset and politely asked me if I would help her change the statement or add a few more lines in my counseling report. I had refused. As he told me later he had read the statement to the local politician and he had told him with this crime on the eve of local elections, they would lose a large chunk of votes.
Later, I learnt that some people had found out about this case and the local journalists spread a campaign against him. He had lost the election and the opposition candidate had won claiming that he was incapable of protecting and providing safety in his constituency. It had completely changed the narrative around which the election was being fought.
The last example is the most poignant. She was a six year old girl from south of Delhi. Her face still haunts me. She was raped and murdered and left in a tank by her perpetrator. The police had rounded a dozen bad characters from that area and almost held a certain man responsible. Yet a profiling of the crime using behavioral analysis that it was a crime with a unique modus operandi and signature and he couldn’t have done it. The search led the police to find man who fitted that profile.
But there was one fallout of the crime I hadn’t foreseen. His community, hundreds of migrant laborers were attacked and overnight they all ran away.
This case was true of many elements of pedophilia. Pedophiles as a criminal are a unique group and have an idiosyncratic way of thinking and behaving that are not shared even with other criminals who commit sexual crimes. They also invoke disgust, a vile revulsion in us that other crimes don’t do and often change the life of a community permanently. They have a signature style of crime that is reflective of certain personality traits that form a cluster and can be understood by a professional. By and large, pedophiles operate alone living in a bizarre world of inner fantasies where they carry their act inside their mind several times before they commit the actual crime. Nationalistic or collective feelings or social causes almost are never their motive to commit their crime. To say a group of pedophiles would get together for a common cause to abduct a girl and that too for a larger interest for their society or their community is unusual, bizarre and not found in research or in literature.
Pedophiles are rarely known to keep their victims alive for long periods. They are not known to keep them captive for long periods if they have decided to commit the crime and tragically enough also decided to kill her. Lastly, they are not known to drug the girl if they have to commit the crime. They often have poor impulse control and find it difficult to delay gratification.
I remember walking through a forest with a group many years ago during a trek and lost our way. It was then we met a group of shepherd children who felt amused hearing we had lost our way in the forest.
We told them where we have to go. “Our cattle are also in that direction,” they replied.
They guided us through the forest like a fish through water before we emerged facing a clear sky and with our destination in the distance. Some distance away the cattle were roaming. “Did you know the cattle were here?” They laughed and told us how they make their way to find the cattle. They look for eaten grass, crumpled grass and always know where their cattle are.
“Since when you have you been in the forest?”
“Ever since I started crawling. I have even seen a leopard. My little brother, she pointed out to infant in her arms, even he can point out with his finger and tell me where the cattle are.”
What I understood is that children, forest and cattle form an organic whole and has existed ever since man started grazing cattle. To say a child is asking for where is his cattle are most probably is a figment of imagination of the person who wrote it on behalf of someone.
Framing an innocent and false accusations are quite common in rape cases when the rule of law is non existent or exists merely as a namesake. Those who do so pick up the existing fault lines in the society, the polarizations between people, the fear and myths of the community regarding female sexuality and last but not the least the explosive rage that people carry over injustices and memories from the past. It is a deadly cauldron.
In the end, I can’t help but mention an incident that comes to mind. It was outside the Nithari village in Uttar Pradesh where multiple rapes of children had taken place. I was standing with a group of journalists, all from national media. One of them remarked casually, “Glad that this crime took place 20 kilometers away from the border.”
“Why do you say that?” I had asked in all naivety.
“If this had happened in Delhi, the government would have fallen,” she remarked.
“But why do you say you are glad about it that it happened here and not in Delhi?”
None of them replied but their faces told me the story. If it had happened in Delhi, they would have to defend the indefensible.
I am not writing about all other aspects here. They have been spoken about already. The change of investigating teams in Kathua, the repeated focus on temple as a place of crime, the many inconsistencies not consonant with delivery of justice.
In the present times in India we stand at a cross roads where rule of law has broken down in many parts of the country. There is also an emerging voice of a people who are becoming aware of their rights and the way they have been lied to and fed misinformation as to their identity and roots. Whether we believe it or not there are many who would like to see that not changing and remain the same. As people, we are becoming aware of injustices and issues that we never thought of before and that is an assault on our national identity. We need to be aware and see that it doesn’t spread its roots now. If we fail to cross this barrier, as a society we may never be able to bring out our resilience that has remained latent for centuries. This is also a time when we need to face the fact that political mechanizations may be played using the issue of pedophilia and rape to destroy our national conscience so that our very will and that of the nation never surfaces. We may lose our soul once again as we did so earlier. I pray that we don’t lose that this time and find a voice that negates it.
But in the end I feel finally it will be the voice of our children that will force us one day to raise the question. Why was the rape and death of a particular child used to politicize, polarize and fragment a people and if so why did they not raise their voice enough to negate it?
In that may lie the justice and future of our children.