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In pursuit of justice…
Oxfam India / Ranjana Das
On June 19, a heinous crime shook the state of Jharkhand. In Kochang village of Khunti district, 5 girls/women from an NGO were raped at gunpoint when they had gone to conduct an awareness meeting on human-trafficking. Angst and hopelessness are the current feelings, however, there is still hope and faith in the justice system to deliver a fair trial.
The incidents that unfolded after the crime, shifted the focus from violence against women and girls to local politics. This undermined the main issue. The media too was all over the place — a few indicated that the perpetrators were groups fighting for their forest rights, others questioned the intent behind the silence of a missionary school head. Very few stayed on the main incident — they reported about the progress in the medical check-up of the women and the status of charge-sheet filed after the cases.
In a rush to paint the incident political or communal and pin the blame on someone, the focus has shifted from the bigger picture that Jharkhand as a state grapples with—the issue of crime against women and trafficking of women and girls.
The 2016 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, shows that the state reported more than 1000 cases of rape. Last December, four women were burnt to death in the state, besides the rape and murder of a four-year-old girl whose mutilated body was found later. The heinous crime on June 19, is not an isolated case but adds to the tally of 77 pending cases of gangrape in Jharkhand (NCRB). They are all sub-judice.
The women/girls were in the village to generate awareness on the rampant human trafficking, something for which Jharkhand is infamous. Almost all the districts report cases of trafficking of young women and girls; Khunti has one of the worst records. The NGOs working in the area thus work on this issue. They go around villages to raise awareness on the issue so that more women and girls can be protected. The 2016 NCRB data for Jharkhand shows that more than 200 cases were booked under section 370 of human trafficking.
The June 19, incident also shows how social and development activities are being muzzled by extreme violent actions; a reflection of our times where the civil society space is shrinking across India in the current political scenario.
There is an urgent need to bring back the focus on crimes against women and girls. Non-implementation of policies and laws, lack of awareness at the community level, and dearth of a concerted civil society pressure on the government are contributing to the pending status of the cases.
Due to the complexity of the current case, various groups working on women’s rights, child rights, forest rights, and minority protection groups have come together in Ranchi. Oxfam India too is an active part of this collective momentum. All the groups came together on June 24, for a protest march to condemn the incident and demand speedy justice. They also demanded for the safety of social workers in remote areas, which, as the incident showed, is under immense threat at the moment.
One fact-finding mission is being planned on behalf of the civil society organizations of which Oxfam India is a part. Oxfam India will join the hands of the civil society organizations to take forward the fact-finding report to the government with a set of clear demands.
As we wait for reports from the ground, our heart reaches out to the women/girls who have survived such violation while in pursuit of a better and a just society. While writing this blog, I was reminded of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. One only hopes that amidst the multiple and complex interpretations of the incident, the road to justice for these women and girls is not lost.
 It is yet not clear from media reports whether they are minors.
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