Sentenced to Rape – Why our Law and Order System is as guilty as the Khap Panchayats

(Published in The Huffington Post India : )

Seems like it was just yesterday that the nation shook with the gut-wrenching news.

A young girl was gang raped in a moving bus in Delhi. The heinous act made us take to the streets in large numbers with candles in our hands and outrage in our hearts. We protested, we demanded justice and the death penalty. We even vehemently protested the ban on the documentary film made on the incident.

And here we are three years later after many, many more such incidents made the news – from gang rapes to assaults to honor killings. It was as if Nirbhaya’s case had sparked a domino effect of more rape cases rather than what we had hoped would be an eye-opener or at the very least, harsher punishments and stringent action meted out by the authorities.

Instead, today the headline screams out the abysmal irony – ‘Indian Village Orders Gang Rape of two Sisters.’ ORDERS.

What is worse is, I am not sure to what extent the Village Panchayat can be held accountable for this. Because the fact of the matter is that our country’s law and order has turned a blind eye to such Khap Panchayats operating in this ‘informal’ legal setting. These misogynist panchayats in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country are notorious for meting out such outrageous sentences and it is unfathomable that this has been going on in plain sight for years and not a finger has been lifted by our government or the courts to put an end to it, other than deeming them illegal.

A brother elopes with a married woman and his two sisters pay a brutal price for it? The number of honor killings of both boys and girls that have occurred in the last many years in the name of such ‘crimes’ is appalling. And yet, it is allowed to continue. Who are the real criminals here?

In the case at hand, all that is being done is a petition that was filed by the elder sister as a plea to the Supreme Court for their protection, has been sent to the UP authorities. While we wait for the UP authorities to respond to this petition, the two sisters with their family have fled to Delhi, hiding in refuge and likely praying for an acquittal in a case that we already know they had nothing to do with.

While Human Rights groups like Amnesty International are frontrunners in these efforts and I am a signatory of this noble cause myself, I cannot help but wonder why these pseudo justice systems that have been playing God and mercilessly ruining lives for years haven’t already been nipped in the bud or in the very least restrained to only village day to day administration and civic rulings.

Many a voice has been raised by women activist and Human Rights bodies against the downright barbaric murder sentences being doled out by such illegal courts that consist of feudal-minded, regressive male decision-makers and yet, in spite of the Supreme Court having declared these Khap Panchayats illegal, they are untouched and continue to sanction heinous atrocities.

We as a country witness rapes, murders and violence every day.  Naturally, it is not possible to eliminate each and every rapist or change every mind set. But, it is a blotch on us as a nation if we cannot do whatever IS possible within our power to ensure that our women are protected and ‘justice’ is not just a word being misused by murderers roaming the streets who decided to take matters in their own hands.

We are living in a world rife with inhumanity and violence today and my sincere hope is that our judicial system does more to protect us by forcefully stripping such barbaric groups from any authority of such nature that condones the violence of one by another. ‘It takes a village’ as the saying goes but in this case, our villages need us. Our women need us and as we await the fate of these two innocent sisters, let’s not forget that at the end of the day, we need each other.

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