Gang-rape outrage redux: Goans rally around 7-year victim

Panaji, Jan 19 (IANS) A seven-year-old girl who was raped and found shivering in a school toilet earlier this week is slowly becoming to Goa what the story of the New Delhi gang-rape victim has come to mean to India.

The Class 2 student's brutal rape, attempts made by the school personnel to allegedly cover up the crime, alarmingly inconsistent portraits of the suspects and a cocky political leadership have only added momentum to a small, but potentially significant wave of protests demanding the arrest of her rapist, who is still at large.

The ghastly rape has also opened up the debate of children's safety in Goa, even forcing the state education ministry and concerned parents to take steps to beef up the vigil against pervert lurkers on school campuses.

Ethel D'Costa, a mother of two young girls, who also heads a FM radio station in Goa, is shocked by what has transpired at the school in Vasco on Monday.

"Making a child vulnerable at school is the worst situation to have for the student and the parents. Which horrible person does that to a child? Even animals show care and compassion to their little ones," she said.

She is now trying to anchor an initiative for change which envisages school administrations, PTAs and managements to work together as a team to ensure the mental, physical and psychological care of students.

"We need to act. We need to enforce laws and rape should attract the strictest law possible," she said - a not too faint reminder of the earnest cries following the gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student which emotionally echoed across a country angered by the brutality of the incident.

The Goa minor's rape and what subsequently followed also have the potential to reach out to a similar consciousness.

See if this shocks you:

On Monday, an unknown man enters a school premises, lures the girl to a toilet, claiming he is a policeman and rapes her. School personnel find the minor trembling in the toilet after the horrific tragedy and inform the headmistress.

The girl's parents have alleged that the school management had tried to cover up the incident by bathing the victim and cleaning the toilet where the rape occurred.

"This was done before police were informed about the incident," the father told the police, even as the headmistress was arrested and suspended by the management. The father has also alleged a delay of four hours since the girl informed the school about what happened and the formal intimation to the police.

Hundreds of residents had virtually besieged the school demanding justice, which even forced Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to rush to the scene to pacify the agitators.

The two police sketches of the accused, who has absconded and has not been traced, show distinctly different profiles with mismatches ranging from thick earrings and a goatee in one sketch and a virtually featureless image in the other.

The incident raises questions about Parrikar's trumpeting after the New Delhi gang-rape, that such incidents could not happen in Goa because there was "zero tolerance" to offences against women in his state.

Then, three days after the schoolgirl's rape, the police were found dealing with another sex crime after a 19-year-old girl was found raped and stripped, with her head smashed beyond recognition in the forests of Assagao, 20 km from here.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

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