Another rape and another round of national uproar! This time in Mumbai. In a country where a woman is raped every 20 minutes, such outrage is a welcome sign. Public anger makes all women feel vulnerable and all men ashamed. But we must accept the enemy lies somewhere “among us” and not “out there” — it could even be in the protesting crowd! We have to move beyond mere display of anger. Systemic changes are required at every level — police, politician, judiciary and the public. Which one should happen first is a futile debate.
The week-long agitation at India Gate and protests all over the country achieved little to be proud of. Even after a 9-month trial, this open-andshut case is nowhere near completion. Archaic procedures and accused-friendly laws have crushed any hope of quick justice. Moreover, with an in-camera trial, media attention is effectively turned away. An open trial could have enabled the entire nation to see for itself the slanderous and ridiculous arguments made to save the accused, by exploiting loopholes in the criminal justice system.
First, we should have zerotolerance for failure to register cases of abuse against women. But society should also be tolerant and not raise a hue and cry for a rise in numbers. One of the easiest ways to reduce crime is by not registering it, but this doesn’t make society safer, it emboldens the rapist. Police cannot be held responsible for the rise in the number of cases just because they register every complaint.
There’s a limit to which police can prevent sexual crimes. Deterrence is the only solution. Faster investigations, disposal of the trial, appeals and mercy petitions will prove effective deterrents. If a trial quickly follows the crime, witnesses remember the incident clearly and are consistent in their depositions. But cases drag on for years. The accused, lawyers and witnesses don’t show up, making convictions rare. Quick disposal would also end a victim’s trauma and enable her to move ahead.
Then there’s the quantum of punishment. Sending a couple of rapists to the gallows after decades is not as effective as sending abusers to prison for even smaller terms, following summary trials. The demand for tougher laws has little meaning. Tougher the law, lower the chance of it being awarded and longer the delay in awarding it. The Malimath Committee had, a decade ago, suggested the accused could be proven guilty if evidence against him is “clear and convincing”. Proof “beyond reasonable doubt” places an unreasonable burden on the prosecution, and short-staffed and ill-equipped police.
Provisions of bail and parole are grossly misused, with the accused threatening victims or committing more crimes. Sadly, there are more laws to protect the rights of the accused and even convicts, than the victim.
Greater sensitivity is required at the police station, medical examination, during investigation and the trial by the prosecutor, judge and even defence lawyer. I, however, have reservations about only women handling such cases. Women are more sensitive and understanding, but the inherent danger is that men may happily absolve themselves of their responsibility towards women and it may lead to ghettoization of women.
Let us treat women with dignity. If the institution of family fails to teach us that, then let the principles of deterrence take over.
(The writer is Praveen Sood, additional
director general of police )
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