Peace is slowly returning to Tappal town in Aligarh district. However, an atmosphere of terror still prevails. It would seem that somehow we have internalized fear and while this may be a good coping mechanism, every ugly incident leaves us diminished and bruised.

You may recall the dreadful gangrape in Alwar district on 26 April. A Dalit couple on a motorcycle was forcibly stopped and six people raped the woman in front of her husband. They made a video of this and put it out on social media. They felt no shame or fear. They seemed to feel they would get away with this crime. Initially, it seemed that they would not be brought to book as the police did not register an FIR in this case till 7 May.

No matter what the crime is, the criminal always leaves behind some evidence. In Alwar, the video of the entire incident was on social media. The Prime Minister mentioned it and Rahul Gandhi visited the victims. The rapists are now behind the bars. When this barbaric incident came to light, the issue of women’s safety was raised yet again. The wounds of Kathua are still fresh.

The court pronounced its decision on the incident last week. The court has sentenced three people accused of raping the eight-year-old girl in a temple to life imprisonment. But what about those who were looking to make political gains from this tragedy? Two state ministers had tried to give the entire incident a political colour. We heard the slogans from the crowds who had gathered to proclaim the innocence of the criminals.

Now the incident in Tappal has proved that it doesn’t matter which government is in power. Politics has a way of creeping into every issue and tainting it to some extent.

The trauma that the victim in Kathua suffered can never be erased from public memory. Today, the same is happening with in the Tappal case. Each time a section of Indians is preoccupied with the religious or caste identity of the victim and the criminals. This is a dangerous tendency. A look at the National Crime Records Bureau data is revealing.

Within five years, the incidents of rapes of minor girl children have increased enormously. In 2012, the number of cases of molestations and rapes of the girls of 17 years and below was 8,541. This number increased to 19,765 in 2016. It was in 2012 when the Delhi gangrape took place. After that, Parliament had made laws related to the crime of rape far more stringent and strict. Despite this, about 106 cases of rape are registered every day in the country and 40% of the victims are minor girls. Predators probably pick on children as they are less likely to resist but this is a blot on our society.

Who says that by making strict laws, the brutality that drives rapists can be negated? Our experience shows that such people are not deterred by strict laws.

More than laws, this country should trust its traditions and social decency.

From Kathua to Tappal, whatever has happened in the last year-and-a-half only shows that our inherent sense of social probity and decency is waning. Instead of stopping this dangerous slide, we have chosen to give ugly colours and labels to such shameful incidents. This is most dangerous and will come back to haunt us again and again.

After three years we will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of our Independence. It may be possible that by then the government is able to provide every citizen with a home and shelter. It’s possible that by then the problems of electricity, roads, and water will be sorted out. But do not forget that the victim of Tappal also had a home. Home and shelter do not guarantee security.

Now is the time when we will have to once again invoke the spirit of our great social movements because over the last five decades, politics has succeeded in hurting our fundamental values and practices.

There was a time when politics rose from society. But now our society is being directed by politics. Society itself will have to take the responsibility of giving it the right direction. Without this, we cannot achieve all the promise that we had as a nation at the time of Independence.

We must collectively rise to the occasion and create a safe India for our children.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.