A 13-year girl was gang-raped and then set on fire by a group of young men in an interior village in Nagaon district of Assam on March 23. The incident sent shock waves across the state. The media, different organizations, and politicians raised voices of protests. But the tragedy is that in recent times almost everyday incidents of rapes are reported in Assam. As per various news reports, more than 3000 rape cases are reported in Assam in the last two years. It is no doubt that the state administration has failed to address the issue.

The communal angle

Some state BJP leaders made public statements that the rapists are Muslims of Bangladesh origin.The Muslims of Bangladesh origin constitute at least 30 percent of Assam's population. In the recent Nagaon incident, the accused are from this community. In 2017, a fifty-eight-year-old school teacher was raped and murdered in the same district allegedly by miscreants belonging to Bangladesh origin Muslim community.

The All India United Democratic Front or the AIDUF, a political party which fights for the rights of the Muslims in Assam condemns this narrative. A senior leader of the party commented that during March 2018 at least 16 rape cases are reported in Assam and only in six cases Muslim men are allegedly involved.

He also stated that while the government of Assam is highlighting these six cases, it is going slow on the remaining cases.

The role of electronic media

The Guwahati based Assamese news channels conducted a number of talk shows expressing deep anguish on the incidents. Participants in the talk show viewed that major English news channels devoted hours to discuss the Papon child molestation incident but did not talk about the recent rape cases in Assam.

A former insurgent leader participating in a talk show commented that there used to be limited rape cases during their heyday as the insurgents used to adopt high handed measures against the alleged rapists.

In the past on the issue of violence against women, Assam drew the attention of major Indian news channels on two occasions.

In 2007 an Adivasi woman activist was stripped naked in public while she was participating in a political rally in Guwahati. The incident happened when clashes broke out between political activists and roadside traders. Again in 2012 a young girl coming out of a bar at night in Guwahati was molested by a group of over 30 persons. The incident was recorded by a local news channel which had gone viral subsequently.

Women's helpline number 181 launched

Given the recent incidents of violence against women, the government of Assam has rolled out a special helpline number "181" exclusively for women.We can only hope that the helpline number will make women safer.