November 2, 2012 3:06:31 am
The series of rape incidents in Haryana has hit the headlines recently. Almost as chilling was the reaction of the khap panchayats,who felt girls should be married off earlier to avoid such incidents. It was a telling comment on the plight of women in rural India,forced to live in a patriarchal society,and subject to a feudal writ,where communities make a distinction between our women and theirs. The latter are targeted ruthlessly,although the communitys own women are not much better off.
In todays India,it is extremely difficult for women to get justice. Convictions for rape make headlines because they are so rare. Every time a judicial officer speaks up for women,it makes news it seems to be treated as some kind of catharsis for social guilt. This obscures the fact that we are actually drowning in a sea of judicial pendency. According to the National Crime Records Bureau,in 2010,the pendency of court cases in India was a whopping 84.9 per cent,with only 15.1 per cent cases getting disposed of. Cases thus keep getting piled up. Criminals are secure in the knowledge that they wont be prosecuted in their lifetimes.
In such a situation,chances of a rape victim getting justice are bleak. Would their families wait for years to testify in court so that the criminal is brought to book? In most cases,the families decide to move on with their lives and the victims stop supporting their cases. Hostile victims and witnesses are a common phenomenon. So the percentage of acquittals keeps going up,demoralising women further.
Registration of the crime in a police station is itself a herculean task. The message to women is to suffer in silence because the chances of the criminals getting punished,in any case,are very low. During the year 1971,2,487 cases of rape were reported across the country. This increased to 24,206 in 2011,an increase of 873.3 per cent. Of these,93.8 per cent were sent to court by the police after investigation. However,there were conviction in only 26.4 per cent of the cases and this consisted mainly of old ones,as recent cases take a long time to come up for hearing.
According to psychologist Abraham Maslows hierarchy of needs,an individuals security needs are extremely important,next only to physiological needs like food,water,air. Have we been able to provide Indian women with this sense of security? Maslow also established that if a person does not feel secure,she cannot develop further.
We need to change the discourse about women and their place in Indian society. We need many more women in the public domain to encourage others to emerge. Many states have reservations for women in government services and local institutions like panchayats and zila parishads. The recruitment of women to the police force and into the judicial system must also be increased. This could encourage victims of rape to register complaints at a police station and follow up on them,as it will help create a more comfortable environment for them.
The feeling of insecurity that has become so common among women has to be fought. The quality of police investigations in rape cases needs to be improved and police personnel at all levels need to be sensitised to such cases. Gender-related training must be continued with the police,and be introduced for judicial institutions as well. Womens organisations need to work closely with all the organs of law enforcement. The Maharashtra police has worked out a successful collaboration with them through the Mahila Dakshata Samitis,which work at police-station,sub-division and district levels. Academic institutions and colleges of social work must also interact with the police regularly.
Special courts for dealing with crimes against women and fast-track trials should be our top priority. The burden of proof needs to be shifted to the accused in such crimes. Let the accused prove that he did not commit the crime,instead of the victim having to prove that he did. There has been talk of increasing punishment for crimes against women,but shifting the onus of proof would be a more effective method of ensuring justice for women. And proceedings must be sped up,of course. If criminals are convicted within a year of the crime,it will spread the message that such acts will not go unpunished. The moot question is,are we ready to give a clear message to the hooligans or do we intend to continue with the national pastime of endless discussion?
The writer is additional director general of police (prisons)
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