Gangrape amidst the pandemic

The news of the gangrape of a 14 year old girl in South Garo Hills in the midst of the pandemic is both shocking and troubling. While the girl was fortunately found and rescued by a police team from Rongsa Awe, what is alarming is that she had to be taken from one health centre to another, merely on the plea of jurisdiction. From the health centre at Nangalbibra the girl was referred to Williamnagar Civil Hospital which was 22 km away. Surprisingly the doctor at Williamnagar Civil Hospital refused to treat her citing jurisdiction issues and referred her to Baghmara Civil Hospital, 75 kms away. Jurisdiction used to be an issue of the police in registering FIRs. Now even doctors seem to have resorted to this escape route. This sheer callousness from a medical practitioner who had taken the Hippocratic oath to serve suffering humanity is grossly unethical and a medical misconduct that should be taken seriously by the Government. That a similar incident took place two months ago making this a repeat offence by the Williamnagar Civil Hospital should necessitate an enquiry followed by necessary punitive action.
While lockdowns are necessary to reduce the community spread of Covid, it also has serious psychological and socially disruptive consequences. This is known as the lockdown paradox and studies have revealed that amongst the many consequences of such lockdowns is the surge in cases of gender-based violence. Since March 2020 when most parts of the world went into lockdown domestic violence has been on the rise which is also linked to close proximity between members of the family in enclosed spaces for too long a time. But the darker side of the lockdown is the amount of screen time that adolescents spend on a daily basis on the pretext of online classes, which in the absence of supervision is diverted to watching pornographic videos.
While the attention of care givers at home is directed towards keeping family members safe from the Covid infection the other aspects of care centred around the mental health of adolescents during the pandemic has been left untouched. At least two of the sexual offenders who were nabbed by the police are teenagers. The manner in which the gangrape was inflicted on the 14 year old minor appears to have been pre-meditated. Otherwise it is impossible for different sets of men/boys to rape a minor girl at different locations. The State Social Welfare Department and Health Department both have the onus to set up counselling centres to deal with such major societal disruptions and gender-based violence. Covid cannot subsume the other predicaments wrought by the pandemic.

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