Legal experts and social activists believe that the answer to addressing the issue of safety of women in India lies not in knee-jerk reactions, but in radical police and judiciary reforms.
The politicisation of the Ahmednagar rape and murder case, in which a teenage girl was waylaid in Kopardi village in the Karjat area of Maharastra, and was brutally raped, assaulted and murdered by three men, has once again shown how in such gruesome cases, the core issue of crime is forgotten and those related to caste and religion assume centre stage.
Since the police and the judiciary are usually slow to investigate and dispense justice, the deterrence is gradual despite the presence of stringent provisions in the law for dealing with such cases.
In such a scenario, legal experts and social activists believe that police and judicial reforms are the need of the hour and a knee-jerk reaction may not serve the purpose.
In the wake of the Nirbhaya gangrape case of 2012, a committee headed by former Chief Justice of Supreme Court J.S. Verma was constituted to recommend amendments to the criminal law to provide a speedier trial and a greater punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. The committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013.
While a number of changes were suggested by the panel – including harsher punishment (but not death penalty) for rapists, gradation of offences, ease of registration of complaints, creation of a support system for the victims and police reforms to enable them to deal more appropriately with cases of sexual offence – the impact of the changes on the ground is yet to be felt.
The Nirbhaya case itself has not been rapidly prosecuted and the victim’s family is still awaiting justice. At an event in Hyderabad this August, the parents of the girl lamented that justice still eluded them as the matter has been pending in the Supreme Court for the past two years. “What had happened had happened. Even after about four years, the proceedings are still going on, lawyers still argue and we feel as if our daughter is raped repeatedly,” the victim’s father stated.
In the meantime, while the latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) suggests that there has been a dip in the number cases of gangrape across the country, there is little to suggest any improvement on the ground. Criminals only appear to have become emboldened by the collective failure of the governments, police and judiciary in enforcing the rule of law and ensuring that those who do not respect women or the law are not allowed to roam free.
Contrary to what one reads in newspapers and sees on the television, the latest report by NCRB strangely reveals that crime against women had in 2015 dipped slightly, compared to 2014. In the present scenario, this fall could also be due to the underreporting or non-registration of cases.
For the record, the data released by the bureau states that the year 2015 has witnessed a reduction in crime against women as compared to 2014. Even when it came to heinous crimes, it noted that cases of rape had fallen from 36,735 in 2014 to 34,651 in 2015 and cases of gangrape from 2,346 in 2014 to 2,113 in 2015.
The cases of kidnapping and human trafficking, however, grew during the year and there is very little to suggest what would have befallen the victims of these crimes.
On the streets and roads, the crime against women is only becoming more brazen by the day. The last few months bear testimony to how the scenario has changed for the worse – especially for women stepping out of their houses to study, work or for any other purpose. Whether they were alone or were accompanied by friends and relatives has not made much difference to the perpetrators of crime.
In the Rohtak gangrape case in July, a Dalit girl, who had been raped by five men three years ago, was again gangraped by them. While two of the culprits were out on bail, three had never been arrested.
Around the same time of the month, a teenag Maratha girl in Maharashtra was waylaid, gangraped and murdered by three Dalit youths. While both the cases were given the hue of caste, the fact remains that the criminals targeted the vulnerable and the police did little to prevent those crimes.
By the end of the month, the nation was once again shaken by another gruesome case of gangrape. This time, gang of men, who had stopped their vehicle on the highway and separated them from the men, assaulted a woman and her daughter. This incident showed how vulnerable women are even when they are accompanied by members of their family.
But just as the security around western Uttar Pradesh was heightened in the wake of this crime came the news of a teacher being gangraped in Bareilly. Later it turned out to be a false charge and the victim modified her complaint and accused her boyfriend of assaulting her. What was done thereafter was resorting to the age-old but effective technique of intensive picketing during school hours to ensure that students and teachers were not targeted.
Social experts, however, believe much more needs to be done.
Woman activist and director of Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, Ranjana Kumari, believes the courts need to dispense justice quickly. “You can make any amount of stringent law, but the situation will not change till the police remains what it is and the judiciary remains what it is,” she said, adding that the solution lies in “speedy justice and ensuring that the culprits are punished.”
Since demands for strong actions against the accused were made following the Bulandshahr incident, Kumari said: “The law is very stringent. It provides for a whole life punishment. So even if you hang people, the judicial process is the same. But if the judicial process has not given justice to Nirbhaya, where all the four convicted were ordered to be hanged by the lower court judgment, then what do you expect.”
Lamenting that neither the police was doing a proper investigation or the judiciary was acting swiftly, she said: “Nirbhaya’s case is a case in point. It shook the whole nation, everyone came out on the street, the Verma Commission sat and now we have a very stringent law. But look at the judicial process. We are sitting over the case in the Supreme Court. The lower court had passed its judgment and the high court has gone through it. But the Supreme Court is still dealing with it. So what kind of justice system are we living in?”
Social scientist Madhu Kishwar said that the answer to addressing the issue of safety of women lies not in breast-beating or knee-jerk reactions, but in paying “serious attention to police reforms and judicial reforms”.
“Bring these issues to the top of the agenda. That is the need of the hour. Also electoral reforms are needed so that goondas don’t get elected to our legislatures.”
Calling for avoiding hysteria when such an incident occurs, Kishwar said, “hysteria is what creates knee jerk reactions like the Justice Verma Commission rape law amendment, which have done more harm than good. Every day fabricated cases are being filed. There is a live-in partner of three years and he is being booked for rape. You do not get a contract from someone and book that person for rape. So many false cases are being so easily registered. That is the other side of the coin.”
Questioning if people in general felt safe, she said: “Forget women’s rights, are men safe? Is the police acting reasonably well in other instances. Are they acting honestly and efficiently vis-a-vis men? You don’t pay any attention to the rottenness of the police and the judiciary and you expect just protesting at India Gate with slogan and in media presence will bring about a change. Only knee-jerk reactions are looked at. They want to hang people in the studio itself.”
Kishwar said it was also wrong to create fear for women. “Don’t overdo this fear bit because more women are coming out than they were ten years ago. More women are driving, taking night jobs, watching night movies; more are visiting pubs and discotheques than ten years ago. Don’t make them look like petrified creatures.” She added that the crimes against women remained serious issues that needed to be dealt with a calm head.
Senior advocate of the Supreme Court Kamini Jaiswal said it would be wrong to target the Supreme Court for the delay in the Nirbhaya case. “Let us not talk about Delhi gangrape, there are many cases in which nothing has happened,” she said, adding “all these cases must be tried efficiently and quickly”.
She said the biggest deterrent to such crimes would be the “certainty that the fellow will be arrested, jailed and the trial will be on. Even if a person is tried and convicted, you can’t deny that person his right to appeal. Even then it will be a deterrent.”
Commenting on how Maharashtra recently introduced a law denying parole to rape convicts and terrorists, Jaiswal said: “All the states will have to react that way. Depending on how heinous the crime was, its nature, the background of the person and his likelihood of running away from justice, all that should be taken into consideration. It was always there. In gangrape cases they should be a little more stringent.”
As for the issue of police reforms, she said, “for the last many years we have been listening of police reforms. But no state is willing to give up on their powers.”
So what does the future hold?
“Future lies in a revolution in this country. The youngsters will have to take up the cudgels,” she said, adding that after the Delhi gangrape case, similar cases were reported from Bulandshahr and Haryana, but these did not evoke a similar strong response.