A few features of cases of violence against women are discernible throughout India. For example, there has been an increase in the violence of the act, which leaves fearsome marks on the body of the target, who, again, is often murdered. Then, the police show a strange reluctance to register complaints of sexual violence. This is an old and oft-repeated story, but a recent incident in West Bengal has once again demonstrated the same features. The targeted girl, whose uncle lodged a complaint of gang rape with the police, had not only been killed, she reportedly also had bite and scratch marks all over her body. Yet the police, in the grip of their customary reluctance, registered a case of murder as though sexual violence was not even possible. Apart from the instinctive protectiveness towards sexual offenders, which is the only reaction that can explain the obdurate front the police put up against victims or their kin, is there also a fundamental lack of training? How can a charge of murder be less grave than a charge of rape?
The Supreme Court has said that a suspect may be charged with sexual offences even before the physical examination of the victim or survivor, as long as a sexual offence has been included in the complaint. That the police in question ignored this part of the complaint would indicate a lack of training, although why they ignored the wounds on the body is matter for conjecture. Apart from an enduring social system in India that devalues women, which the police inherit and absorb, there has also been an undermining of social institutions through the closeness of criminals to political bosses. The police’s reluctance may come from fear and frustration — arresting a criminal may simply lead to his being freed the next day, on the orders of some political boss or other. Whatever be the reason, women continue to suffer.