Almost exactly ten years ago, Goa became aware of a shocking crime
committed on the beach at Anjuna. On February 18, 2008, the
partially-clad corpse of British teenager Scarlett Keeling was
discovered face-down in the shallow surf. The 15-year-old had been
seen nearby late the previous night, and had allegedly been
intoxicated. Very quickly, the Goa police labelled the incident an
accidental drowning. It was only when the dead girl’s rather brave
mother (accompanied by an insistent lawyer) forced a second autopsy
that it became clear the young visitor had been raped, badly beaten
(her body bore 52 wounds), and then murdered on the sands.

In a depressing pattern that plays out in India with monotonous
regularity, the horrific nature of the crimes against Scarlett Keeling
were exponentially compounded by the disgraceful responses by both
officialdom and civil society. Much innuendo was circulated about the
victim, and her family. Not content with the proven dishonesty of its
initial inquiries, the state police proceeded to shamefully botch
every other aspect of the case as well. This week, the Bombay High
Court heard final arguments on a CBI petition challenging the 2016
acquittal of two men who were accused of the crime. Whatever the
outcome of that case, it’s amply clear that justice has definitely not
been served.

Violence against women is an historic global phenomenon, but making
reprehensible excuses for it has become a contemporary Indian
specialty that draws attention across the globe. At this very moment,
there is huge international revulsion about what is happening in
Kathua, in Jammu& Kashmir, where a gang of local men (including four
police officers) kidnapped, drugged, battered, raped and brutally
murdered an eight-year-old girl belonging to a family of nomads.
According to the official chargesheet filed earlier this week, the
abduction and sexual assault was calculated to “dislodge” the girl’s
family (who are Muslim) from a predominantly Hindu village.

Just like the Keeling case, the aftermath of this already terrible
incident has been even more hideously abhorrent, while also nakedly
communal. The police tried to destroy evidence. A mob of lawyers
shouting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ attempted to prevent charges from being
filed, and the judge only accepted the chargesheet after being
pressured by the High Court. Defiant protests – often wielding the
national flag – continue to roil Kathua, sometimes joined by senior
state ministers calling for the release of the accused. This atrocious
behaviour is not restricted to the ruling coalition, however. There is
deafening silence from the opposition, as well as civil society
organizations, in a broad coalition of complicity in the perversion of

Just over five years ago, another sickening crime seemed to have
jolted the country to real change. In Delhi in December 2012, the
23-year-old now known as ‘Nirbhaya’ and her friend got into an
off-duty charter bus, when they were offered a ride home by its
occupants. It was a trap. Both the innocents were beaten nearly to
death, and the young woman was barbarically raped and also literally
eviscerated (her intestines were ripped apart). She died a few days
later, amidst a wave of angry protests that eventually triggered a
judicial commission and some new laws, which have criminalized a wide
range of harassment against women including voyeurism and stalking.

But the legal system only holds good as the people who uphold it, as
well as the society it serves. It has been ten long years, and the
results for Scarlett Keeling and her bereaved family add up to
precisely zero. What is more, as we seen in Kathua, laws alone are no
recourse when the entire administrative machinery, plus all of the
social framework as well as the political hierarchy opts to abdicate
responsibility. This is not just a local issue, whether in Goa or
Jammu. Instead it is a full-blown constitutional crisis, with the
future of Indian democracy at stake.

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