(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)

On January 22nd, the Madras High Court  issued a show cause notice to the Tamil Nadu police. The case has not received the attention it should have. This is what it is about.

A 16-year-old hearing and speech impaired girl is brutally gangraped. She is found unconscious in a field adjoining her father’s small farm. Her body bears the marks of brutal savagery, bites and scratches and big bruises. She has been beaten on her head with a log. She is bleeding. Her injuries tell the story she cannot express, of the violence she was subjected to, of her resistance, of her pain.

The village is far away from the main road. It is late at night. When dawn breaks, the father carries his daughter on his back to the nearest bus stop 14 kms away so that he can take her to a hospital. Bent down with her weight, he doggedly takes one step after another with only the one thought of bringing justice to his violated daughter.

But as the days pass, he learns that his hopes were as far removed from reality as her rapists were from humanity, that there is a dark side to the system, the side of embedded criminality, that kills hopes for justice.

It happened on the evening of December 25, 2014 in the village of Keezhkachavur, and he was taking her to the taluk headquarters and hospital in Denkanikotta, Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu.

But it could have happened anywhere.

In December 2012, just two years earlier, the country had mourned the death of Nirbhaya. India promised its women and its children justice, both preventive and punitive, against sexual assault. Governments and law-makers were forced to change the laws to make them more stringent, and to frame rules so that the victim could more easily access justice.

The recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission that were included in the new laws that were adopted by Parliament were sections on the protocols required if the victim was a minor and also separately,  a section for the protection of a victim if she were disabled.

Two years after the law was adopted, the trauma that the  girl in Krishnagiri faced could have been eased by implementation of these important legal reforms. The crime against her was what has been defined in the new law as “aggravated sexual assault” which shifts the onus of proof of innocence to the accused and which invites more severe punishment.  In her case, it was aggravated sexual assault on three counts: being a minor, being disabled and being a victim of gangrape.

But instead, it was the law enforcers who added the fourth dimension to aggravated crime.They violated the very laws they were meant to enforce.

The girl is a minor so the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012 should also apply, apart from the post-Nirbhaya amended laws. According to POCSO, the Special Police unit for assault cases on minors (or the local police if the special unit is not formed) should take up the case and refer it to a Special Court “without unnecessary delay.” The girl lay on a hospital bed examined by a doctor, but no medical report was made – according to the hospital, it could be done only when the police came. The police did not come. The direct evidence of DNA was lost.

POCSO mandates the girl’s statement should be recorded not just immediately,  but in the presence of her parents, in familiar surroundings and that the victim should not be taken to the thana or questioned by men in uniform.

In this girl’s case, five days after the assault, without registering an FIR, at midnight the girl and her father were taken out of the hospital by the police on the plea of getting a medical test done in a bigger hospital in Hosur. But instead of the hospital, the girl was taken to the police station. Her father was sent away and told to come back the next morning.

The law specifies that a disabled girl victim should be able to give her statement to a person who understands sign language. But far from being provided an interpreter, the traumatised girl was forcibly separated from her father and locked up like a criminal in the thana.

Worse was to follow. She was taken the next day for a medical test. And then taken back to the thana. Both father and daughter were tortured. The father was slapped and spat upon by the DSP. The girl’s foot was stamped upon by a constable wearing boots. She was again separated from her father. He could hear her screams. The girl was then taken by the police to the village to the place of the crime.  She was made to reenact the scene.

There is a reported nexus between the criminals who raped her who are involved in an illegal ganja trade, the police who take bribes from them, and the local unit of the ruling party. One of the accused is an elected ward member. Instead of arresting him immediately, he was given the time to use his power to mobilise the entire village to ex-communicate the girl’s family. The  electricity connection in their home has been cut, they have been denied access to common water sources, they cannot enter the temple;  in short, the victimized family’s basic human rights have been bulldozed by the nexus to force them to come to a compromise.

Women’s organisations have fought hard to get the law changed to include accountability and punishment against personnel who sabotage investigations in crimes against women. As a result of these efforts, a new section, 166A, has been included in the IPC which provides for punishment  of those who do not carry out an investigation according to the law.

In this case, from the senior officer who physically and verbally abused the father to the constable who tortured the victim to the doctor who did not file the medical report, all should be charged under Sec 166A and arrested.

This has not happened.

It is because of the courage of the family and the support of the local unit of AIDWA and the Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Organization that the case could reach the Madras High Court which has issued a show cause notice to the police.

Girls from poor families who face violent sexual assault like this girl did are the anonymous victims for whom few tears are shed. Living in remote areas, a disabled girl from an economically poor family has little hope for justice.

The number of rape cases was  close to 25,000 registered cases in 2013, of which 12.5 per cent were rapes of minors. Shockingly, the processes of justice  even for minors is so slow that there were as many as 33,328 cases of rape of minors pending in the courts according to the National Crimes Research Bureau report of 2013. Of the cases where trial was completed, a high 70 per cent of the accused walked free.

If the conviction rate is so abysmal,  some of the reasons  lie in corrupt politics, in compromised police personnel and in the power of the kind of nexus that victimized the girl in that remote village in Krishnagiri district. Yet India has a better legal framework compared to many other countries. But the political will and commitment to implement laws is absent.

It is only public pressure which will force change which will make the difference. It can be done.  In this case too. Extend your support. Become the voice that shouts out for justice.