Such is our confidence in the class prejudices held by the police especially in non-metros, that it is not difficult to piece together the events that followed the disappearance of the 28-year-old woman in Rohtak.
Given that the Rohtak rape victim was a domestic help’s sister, a migrant from Nepal and allegedly mentally disturbed, it is not difficult to believe the victim’s sister’s allegation that the police didn’t register a missing complaint and didn’t go looking for the woman immediately.
“If this was a case of a woman from a higher strata of society, the police would have acted immediately. Is it because we are poor that the police refused to act?” she told The Indian Express, between sobs. This is an allegation we have heard way too many times. This is also an allegation that has been proved right way too many times.
A Google search with ‘police refuse to lodge rape complaint in India’ throws up a staggering number of reports of cases where the victims and their families struggled to register a formal complaint. The cases are spread across various years.
However, there’s a disturbing pattern to most of the cases – the complainants all hail from small towns and villages and come from lower middle class and poor families. From a girl who set herself on fire after she was raped in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh to a girl who was raped by her landlord’s son in Delhi, a majority of rape victims in India don’t really motivate the police enough to go scurrying to find the culprits.
Given how lethargic the police is registering a complaint of something as serious as rape, it is not hard to believe that they may have not paid attention to a missing complaint being lodged by the victim’s sister. The woman went missing on 1 February and her body was found on 7 February. While reports claim that she was raped and murdered on the very day she went missing, her remains lay around to be scavenged upon by animals till her body was found – almost a full week later.
Two days after whatever was left of her body was recovered, there is no hashtag trending on Twitter pledging support to her family. No catchphrase mourning her death. Perhaps, most of us – Twitter ranters and conscience keepers – know too well that the Rohtak victim is not ‘one of us’. We have conveniently burrowed under the blanket of privileges that come to us without much of a struggle and have set aside our anger for times when something threatens to pull that cover off.
News channels haven’t gone hounding the Rohtak police for soundbites, no anchor with prime-time influence vowing to overturn injustice has grilled senior officers over the phone, seeking an explanation.
There have been some protests in Rohtak itself, but apart from a fleeting few seconds on national television, these haven’t sparked nationwide outrage.
It’s as if the sliver of the country, whose ration of outrage still manages to goad justice delivery systems here, have looked away, muttering ‘***t happens’.
The police, who have been accused of inaction, know entirely too well that a Nepali domestic help’s death – however brutal – will never cut too deep into the social media conscience of the country. They know they will not be hounded till they have nabbed the criminals and even if they don’t, it’s a case that’s going to die a quick death in the nation’s memory. It doesn’t hold the potential for harassment or embarrassment for them like the rape in a Uber cab in Delhi did.
Let’s ask some uncomfortable questions here. The victim’s sister works a domestic help in presumably at least middle class homes in Rohtak. Did any of the families who employ her, assist her in lodging a complaint with the police? Clearly not. It can be safely said that had one of them accompanied her to the police station, her complaint would have been taken slightly more seriously than it was. But that was not to be.
Between us and the other – religious or economic – stands a world of concocted realities. The lives of this other are constructed in our heads from a series of biases and assumptions. We don’t credit them with our morals, we don’t credit them with our concerns, we don’t credit them with our fears.
For many of us, a woman missing in that world could be many things – not just abducted. The police establishment in our country somewhat mirrors middle class India’s many prejudices and suspicions, when it comes to crimes. Let’s remind ourselves that the police are not isolated entities, removed from the society. They are people, drinking in the biases of those around them and forging their own.
It’s not just the police who failed the Rohtak victim and her family. We all have.
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