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Indian and Nigerian Police Focus on Protests Rather Than Justice

The responses send a clear message about how both Indian and Nigerian officials choose to react to crimes of violence against women.

by Olivia Becker
Jun 3 2014, 8:05pm

Photo via Reuters

While two recent incidents of violence against women in India and Nigeria have attracted international attention, police and government officials have responded by focusing on banning protests rather than quickly going after the suspects responsible for the incidents.

In India, police have cracked down on protests following last week’s brutal rape and hanging of two girls in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Riot police used water cannons to disperse hundreds of demonstrators, mostly crowds of women.

Nigeria's Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu made a statement Monday banning protests in support of bringing back the girls that were kidnapped in April by Boko Haram, saying that they posed “a serious security threat" in the capital.

His comments quickly sparked outrage, leading the police to retract the ban today.

The demonstrations have been ongoing since nearly 300 girls were abducted over a month ago and are led by the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

Boko Haram leader tells Nigeria "I abducted your girls." Read more here.

Both incidents, and the subsequent responses from the government, share a similarity that sends a clear message about how both Indian and Nigerian officials choose to respond to crimes of violence against women.

Response from the police has been characterized by inaction, putting much of their energy and resources towards shutting down the protests, rather than prosecuting those responsible for the acts that are being protested against in the first place.

This belies the clear priority of authorities to forcefully maintain order against those who speak out against institutionalized misogyny, corruption and police inaction, rather than adequately prosecute those who commit the crimes in the first place.

This frustration was vocalized by Oby Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala Usman, the organizers of the Bring Back Our Girls march in Nigeria, who told AFP in response to the potential protest ban, "Our movement is legitimate and lawful and cannot be arrested by the police whose responsibility is to enforce, not betray the law."

Rage grows amid rumors abducted Nigerian schoolgirls were married off. Read more here.

Few dispute that Boko Haram or the men responsible for the rapes in Uttar Pradesh are the bad guys and should be held responsible. But what is harder to address, but arguably more pressing, is role of the very people who are tasked with preventing this from happening in the first place and the subsequent high tolerance for sexual violence from officials.

In Nigeria for instance, President Goodluck Jonathan did not even address the kidnapping until weeks after it occurred on April 15, and only after it caught widespread international attention. Six weeks later, there are still over 200 girls missing, despite a massive search and rescue mission underway.

Similarly in India, it took officials several days before they finally arrested anyone in connection to the murders in Uttar Pradesh.

The villagers left the bodies of the two girls hanging in the tree to protest the police inaction and failure to investigate when the girls went missing in the first place.

This is not uncommon and was reiterated by the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who said, "There is no law and order in the state," the Guardian reported. "It is the law of the jungle."

Why we should be worried about India’s next prime minister. Read more here.

This explains why most of the anger fueling the demonstrations in India and Nigeria is not directed at those responsible for the rapes and kidnappings but rather towards the failure of the government to adequately protect the Nigerian and Indian women who routinely face such violence.

"To stop rape, we need police to be held accountable. As long as police are part of the problem, poor, low caste women have nowhere to turn to for justice from men who rape them, buy and sell them," Ruchira Gupta, founder and president of the Indian NGO Apne Aap Women Worldwide, said in a statement.

The fact remains that violence against women is horrifically common while those who are willing to take to the streets to protest it are few.

Expending resources to clamp down on these protests does nothing to address the deep-rooted source of gender-based violence but instead actively silences those few who dare speak out against it.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928