More than a month after Al Jazeera published an investigative report on rape videos being sold in the markets of Uttar Pradesh in India, little has been done to stop the flourishing trade in the violent and explicit videos.
The country’s Supreme Court has taken notice of the case after a letter directed to the Chief Justice of India by Prajwala, an anti-trafficking NGO, sought action to cease the circulation of the videos.
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The court has been pressing the government to come up with a solution in the form of concrete action, such as introducing a new law to prevent the trade in rape videos.
“As of now, there is no law exclusively meant to govern the circulation of rape videos, but existing laws under IPC [Indian Penal Code] and cyber laws are efficient to ensure that circulation of any pornographic material without the consent of the woman visible in the video does not take plac,” said Vrinda Grover, a prominent women’s rights lawyer in India.
“What is important is that existing laws are implemented properly and police acts in accordance with them, rather than introducing a new law all together,” she said.
According to sources on the ground, the trade still persists and the videos, which show women and sometimes girls being raped by groups of men, are still available in kiosks located in western parts of Uttar Pradesh province in northern India.
This comes after assurances from the authorities that every possible step is being taken to stop the sale of the videos and to arrest the perpetrators, many of whom are visible in the videos.
Shortly after Al Jazeera published the initial report, Uttar Pradesh police tweeted that it was referring the matter to Meerut police.
— UP POLICE (@Uppolice) November 4, 2016
Saharanpur’s Deputy Inspector General of Police Jitendra Kuma Shahi asked for samples of the videos without acknowledging that it is illegal to circulate them.
When asked what steps he has taken to stop this trade, he replied: “We have directed all our officials in different police stations to look into the matter.”
“Ever since we came across this story published in Al Jazeera, we swung into action and directed all our station head officers to look out for such kiosks, or individuals involved in such trade, and seize any material depicting sexual crime against women,” Shahi added.
He declined to provide details about which kiosks had been raided and said no arrests had been made in connection with the videos, which show, not only the faces of the women being raped, but also those of their assailants.
Claims of raids, but no arrests
Ajay Anand, the Inspector General of Police in Meerut, gave a similar response.
“We have alerted all our SHOs [station head officer] and have asked them to keep a vigil on any such activity taking place in the district,” he said.
|Al Jazeera investigates the sale of rape videos|
He had previously told Al Jazeera that the police would arrest anyone connected to the production or sale of the videos.
“I am immediately deploying a police party to raid such stalls and will arrest anyone dealing in such a trade,” Anand said. He later explained that raids in several districts had yielded no videos.
“Our police party raided shops in the different districts which come under my jurisdiction, but we were not able to find any rape videos being sold in the market. However, we have taken Al Jazeera’s report very seriously, and there are clear instructions from higher authorities to remain alert and apprehend anyone found guilty of this.”
To confirm that there had been coordination between senior and middle-level police officials, who would be responsible for executing such raids, Al Jazeera contacted the police station officer in Incholi village, where our investigation found rape videos being sold.
The station officer, Prashant Kapil, said that he had not received any instructions from his superiors to look out for such kiosks.
Sanjeev Balyan, a member of parliament from Bharatiya Janta Party, who had blamed the Uttar Pradesh state government for failing to crack down on crimes against women, did not respond to repeated inquiries about why he had not raised this issue in the winter session of parliament, which began on November 16.
Balyan’s assistant said that he was too busy campaigning to respond.
Lalitha Kumaramangalam of India’s National Commission for Women, told Al Jazeera’s NewsGrid that police might investigate the sale of these videos if the women in them file complaints.
“If somebody brings up the issue, the local police may try to take some action. And I say ‘may’ – very concious of the word I’m using,” said Kumaramangalam.
But, she added, women in India are harshly “policed andpatrolled and judged.”
“Most of them are too scared to make any complaints,” said Kumaramangalam, adding that police use the lack of complaints as an “excuse” for inaction.
Deeply embedded ‘chauvinism’
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, at least 34,651 cases of rape were reported across India in 2015. The victims range in age from under six to over 60.
Commenting on the attitude of the police, Jagmati Sangwan, a prominent women’s rights activist in India and the general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said the situation shows “how insensitive [the] police are when it comes to crime against women”.
“It’s not just a matter related to law and order in states where the leaders of [the] ruling party and higher officials in [the] police have also at times resorted to victim-blaming in cases of crime[s] against women,” said Sangqan.
“We demand that senior police officers should be held accountable for such trades taking place right under their nose[s] … It reflects how deeply male chauvinism is embedded in this society where people enjoy watching rape videos. We need to introspect and sensitise the society on the question of gender,” she added.
However, Mangla Verma, a lawyer and feminist activist, said the Supreme Court’s taking notice of the case is a welcome step.
“This crime has exposed the huge lacuna in the law and it’s time that we have specific laws, dealing with filming and circulation of rape videos,” said Verma.
“I hope the lawmakers in the country are listening to this.”