Six years ago, a Supreme Court judge committed a gross faux paus when he named a rape victim 11 times in his judgement that was delivered on 12 October, 2007. When you talk about people in high places being insensitive, the judge would win hands down. But the Home Minister of India, Sushilkumar Shinde, is not far behind. He showcased how a minister and politician of his stature can also make serious gaffes by naming the victims of the recent Bhandara rape case.
The Home Minister breached the Indian Penal Code, Section 228A, which prohibits making the identity of the victim of the rape case public. Not only that, Shinde’s office had also mailed a copy of his statement to all media houses creating further embarrassment to the ministry. It took the leader of the opposition and an eminent lawyer Arun Jaitley to bring the severe blunder to the notice of the honourable Home Minster. Though through an efficient process their names were expunged from every place, the damage had already been done. Expunging a name from a mere document cannot delete it from memory.
The fact is Sushilkumar Shinde and his ministry’s attitude towards the whole affair was extremely callous. How could a document, which reached the Minister after a lot of scanning, have such a glaring mistake? Just because a Member of Parliament has the immunity of saying something on the floor of the house and IPC codes are not applicable to him, Sushilkumar Shinde cannot shun the moral responsibility that he has as a minister.
Obviously, the family of the victims must have been traumatised when they heard that their daughters’ name had been publicly announced. The three sisters, aged 6, 8 and 11years, had gone missing from 14 February 2013. Two days later, their bodies were found in a well two kilometres from their house, mutilated and in a decomposed state. After the post mortem, a more shocking incident was unearthed. All these young kids were subjected to brutal rape. But medical analysts failed to pin point the cause of death, as they were neither strangled nor poisoned. For the bereaved and widowed mother of three, the trauma was unbearable. And now adding insult to the barbaric act is the revelation of her kids’ names.
Sushilkumar Shinde, in his initial days, was a policeman. So it is expected from him that he should be aware of the IPC rules and even if the MHA had written something objectionable, he should have been alert enough while speaking it out. Expunging and probing wouldn’t be able to undo what has already happened. It’s like an arrow that has been released can’t be stopped. The Section 228A is in sync with laws abroad like UK’s Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 1976 which guarantees anonymity of rape to victims. These Acts are being placed in order that the women who are subjected to such brutality might be able to come forward without the fear of humiliation. USA, although, is an exception; it does not prohibit making the name of such victims public. The entire purpose of the Indian Penal Code, Section 228A, has been defeated by one single act of the Home Minister. It also passes a wrong message on to the offenders that if the Home Minister is showing such insensitivity, then why should they be scared of anything?
May be it is high time now that the data of rapists go online. This programme is still on the cards of the government, and needs to be initialised soon. Mr Shinde should now seriously think about starting the process soon. The law ministry has already cleared the proposal of the Home Ministry for the preparation of a database of rape convicts across the country after the brutal Delhi gang-rape case.
In our country, there is no system of keeping a watch on repeated sex offenders. This database will prevent sexual offenders from hiding their identity, which sometimes helps them in repeating the crime. The government has proposed to put the name, address and photograph of the offenders on the police’s website. It is now coming to knowledge that the main accused of the Bhandara rape and murder case had earlier spent nine years in jail for having committed a similar offence in 2003. Hence, here is the opportunity for the Home Minister to act and prove that he is the correct choice for the post.
The Home Minister is in the eye of a storm at the moment, but it seems that he has got used to it by now. Sushilkumar Shinde, in the last one year, has had innumerable instances of suffering from foot in the mouth syndrome. In August 2012, in a debate over the Assam violence, he taunted actor turned politician Jaya Bachchan. Bachchan was rebuked by Shinde for interrupting him; and the Minister had said, ‘This is not a subject of films’. There was a huge uproar over the comment and he was made to swallow his words. Shinde had finally apologised for his remark.
Again, in September 2012, he made an observation that the huge Coalgate scam would soon be forgotten the way the Bofors scam had been. He was subjected to a lot of hoots for his insensitivity. During the Winter Session of the parliament, the Home Minister put ‘Shri’ before the name of Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of 26/11 attacks.
Again in December, Shinde assured a month long deadline to solve the Telangana issue only to retract his steps later. He also had to face the ire of the BJP when he made a remark about Hindu terror at the Congress ‘Chintan Shivir’ in Jaipur in January 2013. Later, the Home Minister was forced to ‘express regret’, as the BJP threatened to disrupt the Parliament and boycott the minister if he did not apologise. This is just not the end of the list. During the Delhi gang-rape protests, Shinde had compared the protestors, who largely comprised students, with Maoists.
It’s high time that the HM understands the gravity of a certain situation and his post, and thereby not let his tongue slip so shoddily.