By Victor Rangel-Ribeiro
It’s true. Things have gotten so bad on the sex crime scene lately that a lot of people, who at one time wanted you to stop the world so they could get off it, now want you to stop the world so they can jump off it. Very quickly. I am one of them.
Of course, heinous sex crimes happen all over the world. People are appalled in New York as they are appalled here when a victim’s body is violated. But there is a difference. Overseas, there’s a good chance that the perpetrators will be caught and brought to justice. Victims and their families can then find some closure when the guilty are caught and punished, though it must be admitted that there can never be real closure for a victim who has been raped. In Goa, where the number of rapes has risen dramatically over the past twelve months, numerous suspects are chargesheeted by the police, but trials grind along with all the speed of a caterpillar sunning itself in a flower garden, and too few of the accused are convicted.
Women no longer feel safe in Goa. Men have begun fearing for their women’s safety. I recall times, just fifteen, ten, and even five years ago, when Lea and I would routinely drive up to the Chorla Ghat and spend an hour or two taking in the magnificent view from there. This year, when two of Lea’s friends from Scandinavia told me they had done the usual tourist thing, and asked what else they should see, I suggested a drive up into the Ghats, and they agreed.
The night before the expedition, I could not sleep. The Delhi rape had happened. So had other rapes elsewhere, including Goa. I kept thinking, why am I taking these two women up there, where we will be alone and unprotected? What if a car full of men drives up? Should we wait until the men get out and try to read their intentions, or should the four of us jump into the taxi and drive hellbent towards the border right away, or should we turn around and head for Goa? I thought of calling my friends and cancelling the trip, inventing a plausible excuse for not going; food poisoning and a violent stomach upset would be the most believable excuses of all.
I decided to call in the morning, and as soon as I had made that decision, I fell asleep. I was awakened early next day by the ringing of my mobile. It was the Scandinavian friend, calling to tell me that they were sorry, they could not meet me for the trip that day, her daughter had suddenly fallen ill. Severe stomach problem. Probably food poisoning.
I gladly agreed to cancel the trip. It is possible that the girl really was taken ill. It is also possible that she had said, “Mummy, I don’t like the idea of us being alone up there. Let’s not go, it’s too scary.”
This week we heard of the seven-year-old girl who was raped in a school toilet in Vasco. Then on Thursday a 15-year-old boy was alleged to have sodomised an 11-year-old near Dabolim. Sexual predators can be found in both sexes, and sometimes not far from each other.
It is instructive to look at what happened, also on Thursday, when a woman was murdered near Assagao. Two forest guards say they heard her screaming, so here’s a natural question: Did they run towards the screaming woman, when they first heard her cries? According to the Navhind Times network report, this is what they did: “Panicked, the forest guards contacted their superiors, who, in turn, advised them to call the police… the Anjuna police contacted their colleagues at the Siolim outpost. Assistant Sub-Inspector Mr Dessai from the outpost, along with another constable went up the hill and along with the forest guards started looking out in the direction where the scream originated.
“After searching for some time, Mr Dessai stumbled upon a heap of grass and suspecting something fishy, the officer cleared the grass only to find a body of a woman with head injuries. A stone with blood stains and a blade were also found lying close by.”
A somewhat different report appeared in the Herald: “Police reports say the incident came to light at about 3 pm when two forest guards… heard the screams of a woman while they were on routine patrol.
“The forest guards then ran towards the direction of the screams, when they noticed a youth hastily pushing a two-wheeler towards the exit road of the plateau. Finding him suspicious, the forest guards quickly noted the registration number of the two-wheeler and alerted their superiors at the Forest Department. They were then asked to notify the local police station.”
The rest of the report in the Herald substantially matches the report in the Navhind Times. It is commendable that the forest guards took action, and we must certainly commend Assistant Sub-Inspector Dessai for acting as quickly as he did. But one simple question bothers me: Why didn’t the two forest guards rush to the aid of the woman when they first heard her scream? True, the report in the Herald says they did that, but what they saw was a young man pushing a two-wheeler on to an exit road. Since Mr Dessai found the victim nude and battered and hidden under a pile of grass, the forest guards obviously arrived at the escape spot, not the scene of the crime, after a great deal of time had passed. And they actually did not go looking for the woman in distress until Mr Dessai had arrived on the scene, along with a constable.
A very old proverb tells us that discretion is the better part of valour. But once the forest guards realised that an assailant had fled, perhaps they should have allowed their valour to get the better of their discretion, and gone looking for the woman who had been attacked. She might still have been alive.