Everyone in Karnataka is on trial today, but we don't recognise it. Like ostriches, our heads are buried in the sand. We mustn't look the horror in the face. Let's collectively pretend that there is nothing here. And it will vanish, just as we were able to wish such incidents away in the past.

I am talking of the most horrible sex scandal of all time. A Guinness Book record for our own Silicon Valley. Be sure to trumpet it around the world, when we mention the shining country and smart cities.

Do we know that things are much worse now than they were two decades back? Remember the first time pictures of crimes being committed erupted on TV screens 23 years ago? ‘Tehelka's undercover sting ‘Operation Westend’ caught a Defence Minister negotiating a bribe.

Remember when even Presidents of two political parties and senior armed personnel with their support staff were despatched to jail for corruption? The head of today’s ruling party, Bangaru Laxman, was stripped of his post and relegated to the doghouse. ‘Aaj Tak’, in its crusading avatar, actually caught on camera bribes being demanded all over one building of the Delhi government, aptly rechristened ‘Ghoos Bhavan’.

When we Google the aftermath of these cases, we find that offenders were chargesheeted, convicted, dismissed and sent to jail, even if the process took several years. It was a roaring success by any stretch of the imagination. No wonder fools like us thought that more traps would be set and criminals brought to book.

None of that happened. Savvy offenders learned to protect themselves. Courts tied up our hands with rules to restrict the use of proof obtained by setting traps for criminals. We also lost the appetite to clean up the world.

The response to the recent lurid events in Karnataka shows how much we have reneged. Once again, there is irrefutable evidence of horrible atrocities committed over several years. The kind of visual proof that prosecutors and police long for.

Better even than eyewitness testimony, because the camera does not lie. The videos which have come to light relentlessly record women of all ages being brutalised, molested and exploited.

This kind of evidence was once enough to punish corrupt persons with job loss and jail time. But, now there's only deafening silence, reluctance and apathy. We are face to face with our consciences, looking away from what is dangling before our eyes.

Refusing to punish the guilty, protect hapless victims and ensure that this will never happen again in Karnataka, the land extolled by Kuvempu as "‘Bharata jananiya tanujate’ (the favourite maiden of Mother India)”.

We have the same ideas of right and wrong throughout the State. We seek respect for women in villages and towns, in Holenarasipur as in Bengaluru. That so many were stripped of all dignity and dared not complain is a bitter indictment of our society, politics and government.

It is a mirror of our failure. Because, these ideas of justice are reflected in the laws and procedures that we never implemented and are still ignoring.

The Special investigation team (SIT) looking into the horrors is mired in the same swamp of defeatism and compromise. We are told that investigation cannot gain steam till the alleged offender returns from abroad and victims complain.

This is patently false. We only need a forensic examination to establish the authenticity of the videos, unearth a gold mine of evidence and identify predators committing heinous offences against helpless women.

The videos confirm sexual assaults on around 300 persons, which fall under the definition of rape in Article 376 of the penal code. While those who photographed the 3000 women in the videos as well as those who circulated them are culpable under Article 354, for “outraging their modesty”. Complaints are not required for registering cases, because these are cognisable offences in which police officers must take action.

If there is no evidence of tampering, we will have proof of crimes being committed. Offenders who are visible can be identified from the photos. And there is sufficient corroboratory evidence.

A Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Devaraje Gowda, and the former driver of the ‘VIP’ family that is now in the news claim to have flagged the issue with BJP leaders; they can offer valuable leads.

Persons who received and forwarded the videos are also links in the chain. Women who are recognisable in them need not be complainants; they are valuable witnesses.

They fear and avoid the police, because it has always been indifferent, biassed and hostile to their complaints. They do not expect dignity, comfort or safety in police stations, from which they are usually chased back to violent homes and work-places for further exploitation.

This is why the SIT help line is silent. Everyone (criminal, voyeur, victim and investigator) believes that the uproar will die away, culprits will slip back into place and repeat the same actions.

The charade of helpline-based prosecution, the alibi for inaction and concealment, must be abandoned. Victims, who have slunk into hiding, must be persuaded to testify by approaching them through the families, journalists and activists to whom they are already speaking.

If such persons are co opted to reach and reassure the women, an ironclad case can be built against the most powerful people. Courts have prescribed elaborate safeguards for women speaking on these sensitive issues. Hearings could even be held in camera before women judges and identities protected.

One measure alone can boost the courage of women, if the State and Central governments do their duty. We have all objected to their draconian powers under the Information Technology Act of 2000.

But, that act also has a section to penalise those who circulate offensive messages on social media with punishment of imprisonment up to three years and fine. Has the notified authority under the Act taken swift action to prevent circulation of the ghastly videos or is it only busy with political criticism in the media?

Summary removal of disgusting messages, threat of penalisation and permanent exclusion of offenders from social media are levers that can turn them into approvers and discover the sources of these pictures.

Above all, rapid investigation is essential. The law can swing into action without the alleged offender. Authentic videos and key witness testimony are enough to prepare a charge sheet; the culprit can then be proclaimed absconder and suffer all the consequences. But, none of this is on track.

The cruellest joke is on the women’s commissions that are supposed to prevent sexual harassment. Karnataka is experiencing the most blatant case ever seen in the country of such behaviour.

Demand of sexual favours from supplicants for performing public duties is sexual harassment. Molesting employees is sexual harassment.

The people in the news today have occupied positions of Prime Minister, Chief Minister, minister, Member of Parliament, Member of Legislative Assembly, heads of local bodies and cooperatives, and office bearers of political parties.

But, the privileges committees of these organisations are paralysed by the personal and political alliances of power blocs, and the PM’s support for the candidature of the main accused.

All of us are culpable too in the collective crime. Civil service bodies full of former home secretaries who were once responsible for the safety and dignity of women pontificate about human rights and electoral violations.

Why are they unmoved observers when women are disrobed? Are we all biassed against rural women and the poor? Caste and regional loyalties are also at play, since the family in the dock is the face of rural Karnataka, the symbol of one of its two dominant castes.

We must put all this aside and remember our duty to lean on our governments, to pull lurking horrors into the light of day and shelter victims. If we once again sweep such crimes under the carpet, we have no right to glory in the name of Karnataka or India.

Renuka Viswanathan retired from the Indian Administrative Service. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.