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India: Delhi has become a rape capital

The horrific tale of public apathy and police insensitivity and inefficiency as described on a private national TV channel by the friend of a female physiotherapy intern from Bareli in Uttar Pradesh who was beaten and gang raped in Delhi on 16 December 2012, and died thirteen days later while undergoing emergency treatment in Singapore for brain and gastrointestinal damage from the assault, had brought down the image of India beyond repair.

This ghastly incident not only invited nationwide anger and outrage as seen in a spate of protests not only in the capital city of Delhi but also other parts of the country, hit international headlines for days together and was condemned by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, who called on the Government of India and the Government of Delhi “to do everything in their power to take up radical reforms, ensure justice and reach out with robust public services to make women’s lives more safe and secure”.

What was all the more shocking was that the Delhi policemen, instead of providing immediate help and medical support to the victim, kept wrangling over their jurisdiction area for over two and half hour in that cold winter night and the blood curdling wails and woes of the rape victim and her friend fell on deaf ears.

Scores of people cutting across the party lines and society strata came on the street for days together demanding the most  stringent possible action against the culprits as seen in their candle light march and demonstrations  That forced the government to announce a three member committee headed by former CJI Justice JS Verma to dwell upon the need for formation of a fresh anti-rape law. There have been endless howlers on the mode of punishment to the culprits including castration to hanging to life imprisonment and so on. Yet the sordid saga of rape in other parts of the country has gone unabated and there is no guarantee that it would completely stop in the near future even if the most stringent punishment is meted out to the culprits of this heinous crime.

Even India’s National Crime Record Bureau(NRCB)  estimates say that there has been at least 23 percent rise in incidents of rape in the country since 2009 and according to another report, a woman is raped in India almost every 22 minutes. According to Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde , “2.38 lakh cases were registered for crime against women in 2009, charge-sheets were filed in about 1.64 lakh cases and there were only 27,977 convictions. In 2010,more than 2.13 lakh cases were registered, nearly 1.72 lakh charge-sheets were filed, and 30,270 convictions were meted out . In 2011, over 2.28 lakh cases were registered, 1.78 lakh charge-sheets were filed and only 30,266 convictions secured. It’s a matter of concern that there are low conviction because of the fact that out of these, around 52 per cent of cases in most states have been found to be a result of a involved love affairs gone sour, a promise of marriage not kept after having sex or involved a close relative, family member or neighbor.”

A frightening scenario indeed but then the changing contours of society and its behavior, the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, between the rural and urban India, the abuse and misuse of information technology and novel use of tools of threat and blackmail like SMS and MMS have all contributed to some extent in the degeneration of the society. Moreover, the free availability of porn material on the internet and the portrayal of sex, sleaze and crime even in a section of media have added fuel to fire.

This incident became an international news event because it happened in the heart of India’s national capital. But how about other places; how about those sex starved states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where there is so much of class conflict, restrictions and huge imbalance in male-female ratio? There are some other states in the country where more than 70 to 90 rapes are reported every month and that is just one fifth of those rape cases which don’t get reported at all. This incident has shaken many social scientists to analyze about the causes of such events but even more banal is the demand for hanging the culprits as if this would be the end of rape saga in India for ever. But this is not a gang for a gang. The answer to gang rape cannot be gang justice. It’s not unexpected that the great festering anger over a complete lack of governance that turns something as basic as boarding a bus into a game of Russian roulette will stay contained in candlelight vigils and silent marches. Frankly, the answer to this malady lies in well orchestrated efforts at three levels – Family, society and even spiritual level. There is crying need for making the police force more sensitized and making the judicial system more quick and responsive as the general public don’t have much faith in the legal system in India – they have even less faith in the police and investigating agencies. In the opinion of many sociologists and political scientists, if the judiciary did its job the politicians / bureaucrats / investigating agencies or any other department of the government won’t be able to get away with the rampant corruption which has become the norm. There will be better respect for law and order in this country – all crime will reduce considerably if there is a surety that the law will indeed take its own (correct) course. But then, the judiciary in India too has its own set of problems and most of them are connected with other wings of governance as well. For example, India is perhaps one of those countries in the world where it can take well over 8-10 years for a case to be tried in this country. Most often, the litigants just get tired of fighting the case and find other ways of resolving the issue – but this is rarely a good option when we come to crimes such as rape, murder, assault etc. The vigilantism and mob lynching are direct result of the public losing faith in the legal framework in this country. Secondly, the courts go on leave several times a year – for prolonged periods of time, despite the millions of cases still waiting to be heard. The judicial indifference to this problem is astounding. The judiciary has done precious little to resolve the backlog of cases – no plan of action, no urgency to solve the problem. If the judiciary is seen as a service provider whose job it is to render justice, then the judiciary in India is pretty inefficient and dare say, incompetent. Justice delayed is indeed justice denied. Even more disheartening is the fact that the legal system in India does not do enough to punish errant lawyers and judges – in Tamil Nadu, the lawyers went on a rampage and damaged the furniture in the courts, but no one has yet been held to task. The Bar Council of India (BCI) works more like a cartel and a union for the lawyers rather than as a custodian of the dignity of the bar – and therefore does not enforce a code of ethics for its members while simultaneously fighting every attempt to hold lawyers/judges accountable. While the fervent cry for a radical change in the anti-rape law in India is welcome, there are many other issues which warrant immediate attention. They include the need for protection for witnesses, strong whistle blower protection acts, strong witness protection acts. Secondly, there is a crying need to make the judiciary comply with a time limit on cases. A case should be completely tried and the verdict should be given in X working days. If the case extends beyond this limit, the judges should be required to explain why. If investigating bodies are the cause of the delay, they should be held accountable and the officer in charge should be punished accordingly. Courts have powers to punish investigating officers if it is felt that they are trying to delay or thwart the proceedings, if they are mismanaging the case, the witnesses etc. There is also an urgent need to setup additional courts – the population in this country has multiplied so many times from the time when most of the courts in the country were setup, but there has been no proportional increase in the number of courts in session.  They can have the existing courts work in 3 shifts to clear the huge backlog of cases and remove all special vacations which only the courts in India have. According to some jurists, it is equally important to bring the judiciary under review – have performance reviews for judges. There are cases where the lower courts give really bizarre judgements which are then overturned by the higher courts. When these things happen, the higher courts will also need to consider why a judge would give such a bizarre ruling and consider if he is fit to continue as a judge or not. Further, the government should also ensure to have a judicial review panel that will review the judgment in various cases and provide these reviews to the public so that they can comment on it. The judiciary, like any arm of the government, is answerable to the people and it should provide details of the case with details of evidence. The tragedy of India is that such kind of national umbrage and outrage has kept on happening time and again and after that everything goes back to square one. It remains to be seen if the government of India as well as the people of this country take this incident was an ominous writing on the wall and a well-orchestrated effort is made to ensure that such ghastly incidents don’t happen again and don’t lower the prestige of India in the comity of nations.

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