The verdict came on Monday in the Kathua gang-rape case holding all the accused guilty of the crime. Like the Nirbhaya case in Delhi, this incident had triggered nationwide outrage, also acquiring political dimensions. It was suggested that the eight year old victim was raped and killed to intimidate the Bakerwal community for political and religious reasons. This narrative has been challenged by many, but the facts will come to light from the court judgement and its subsequent examination by the higher courts, where the guilty are certain to appeal.
Another case that has similarly caught the nation’s attention involves the torture and murder of a two-year old girl in Aligarh by a repeat offender and others. The motive reportedly includes a revenge angle, but more will be known once the investigation is completed. Here, too, an added dimension is the different religious identities of the victim and the perpetrators.
Such incidents fuel a larger narrative leading often to many of the real issues being overlooked, in particular the vulnerability of the victims owing to neglect by family and society. In Kathua, for instance, what was an eight year old girl doing herding animals in the jungle by herself when she ought to have been in school? In Aligarh and many other places, why is parental supervision so poor that little children can be stolen away by predators? Almost everywhere, children are left unsupervised or are in the care of only slightly older siblings. In almost every developed country, such neglect leads to severe legal action against the parents.
It is not just this – little children keep falling into borewells on a regular basis. Others die of suffocation or heat by locking themselves inside cars. Is this because people are having more children than they can afford or manage? Is it not because there is little societal concern for their well-being? Is the breaking up of joint families a reason for the lack of supervision? Is the yearning for the male child leading to larger unmanageable families among the poorer sections in particular? Are girls valued less and generally neglected?
It is harsh, of course, when a crime occurs, to blame the parents, particularly as they are victims as well. Many of them are simply unaware of how and why their care of the child is negligent. Think of the number of toddlers transported around on two-wheelers in the mad rush of Indian traffic. For almost everybody including the authorities, it is OK. Except that it is not. Children deserve to be cared for better.