Their savagery jolted a Dhritarashtra-like society that began to at least blink and react to the horrors that stare women in the face on an everyday basis. Their impunity forced the legislators to amend the existing provisions in the Indian Penal Code on laws pertaining to sexual offences. They raped and brutalised a 23-year-old paramedic, nipping a promising life in the bud. They will now be hanged to death.
The Supreme Court of India has upheld the death sentence for the four of six rapists in the December 2012 gangrape case. One of the six accused committed suicide in Tihar Jail, while another, a juvenile at the time of the crime, is a free man.
Free are many others, some not even put on trial. Even if brought to the court, many more find it easy and fast to be acquitted, or at least be out on bail.
Safety for Women – a Disheartening Scenario
The post-December 2012 voices demanding radical reforms in the criminal justice system have already dimmed, and with them, the hopes of many a rape and sexual abuse victim.
Has the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 failed to emerge as the harsh deterrent that the lathi-charged and tear-gassed protestors at the Raisina Hill wished for?
A Hindustan Times report on the rape cases in the national capital brought some disheartening facts to light.
While the time taken by the police for the investigation process has come down, the acquittals too have been getting fast tracked. That there may be a strong correlation between the two is anybody’s guess. Conviction in rape cases depends heavily upon corroborative evidence, since it is difficult to find witnesses in most cases.
A botched-up investigation, even if speedy, is fatal for the delivery of justice.
Systemic Inadequacies Persist
An almost criminal lack of forensic test facilities in the country is the reason why many rapists and other criminals go scot free. These systemic inadequacies spell disaster in terms of securing convictions, even when complaints have been filed. In many cases, the victim does not even register an FIR and that opens the age-old debate on police reforms in India.
During the 2012 agitations, it was rightly brought to attention that the police establishment reeks of misogyny. In many cases, the victim’s ordeal begins the moment she reaches the police station to file an FIR.
Amidst growing concern, the legislators and the police top brass unanimously assured that the police personnel would be sensitised in this regard. However, there were no concrete steps in sight. Police responsiveness through helplines et al was also assured, but we all know of its fate.
The question that needs to be asked right now is, why do we content ourselves with knee-jerk reactions and high-voltage proceedings when the malaise demands a clinical approach? Why do we feel satisfied by the promises of “sensitisation”?
Let's Not Be Blindsided by 'Sensitisation'
We must demand non-negotiable standard operating procedures, complete with accountability. Let the person dealing with a rape victim inside a police station be a crass misogynist, as long as he follows the SOP and is held accountable for any neglect or felony.
Words, even if enshrined in the constitution, achieve little if not backed with action. No harsh law, no amount of sensitisation, and definitely no exemplary sentences can override systemic miscarriages.
Each corrupt policeman, each forensic evidence ignored, and each unspent penny from the dedicated funds mocks the victim. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been little to no drop in the crime against women after the new law.
As we await fresh NCRB data, it is safe to assume that the procedural efficiency in the 2012 gangrape case remains an exception rather than the rule.
The JS Verma Committee had observed that it was the failures on the part of the Government and Police that let the crimes against women grow. That the said failures are still not addressed despite enacting a more stringent law says a lot about not only the legislators’ will, but also the activists’ commitment.
If placebo is what works for a society’s ailments, why bother putting the advancements of medical science to use!
(The writer is Associate Fellow (Gender) at Observer Research Foundation. She can be reached @TedhiLakeer. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)