By Poonam I Kaushish
India is at war with its betis. If Nirbhaya, Kathua, Unnao, Muzzafarnagar etc weren’t gut wrenching, the latest tale of savagery happened in Hyderabad 28 November where a 23-year old veterinarian ‘Disha’ was raped and burnt, horrifying the nation again. But in a stunning twist or call it righteousness the four accused were shot dead in a police encounter. A triumphant Cyberabad Police Commissioner said, “Law has done its duty,” and a delirious nation got its justice.
Clearly, while many felt instant justice powered by public support as correct, others voiced concerns over extra-judicial executions as it underscored the failure of our grievance redressal mechanism and justice delivery system, for which our police, judiciary and lawmakers must share blame.
Raising a moot point: Was brutality the trigger point for the public to say enough is enough, kill the culprits? True, we might have excellent criminal laws, but what use are these when they cannot ensure a quick, time-bound trial or punishment?
Think. The rapists of Nirbhaya in December 2012 still await justice. While one is roaming free after serving his three-year sentence in a reformation home, three others mercy petitions are pending with the President. Seven years, no justice is a telling comment on our collective failure to ensure that crimes are addressed and criminals punished in time.
In June 2017 a 17-year old girl was kidnapped and raped by ex-BJP MLA Sengar in Unnao. In April 2018 Sengar was arrested and in July 2019 the rape victim was seriously injured when a truck struck her car. The Supreme Court transferred the case to a Delhi trial court where final arguments continue. While Sengar is in jail his three accomplices are out on bail. Three years, the case drags on.
The story of 8-year-old nomadic girl in J&K’s Kathua village 2018 runs on parallel lines. She was raped and bludgeoned to death in a small village temple. While three have been sentenced to life imprisonment three others have been awarded five years in jail for destruction of evidence
Again, in May several minor girls in a shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur were sexually and physically assaulted by ex-MLA Brajesh Thakur and accomplices. While ten of eleven accused are in jail the case drags on in court with no end in sight. Another Unnao rape victim whose trial was underway became a victim of acid attack and died. The police reportedly is trying to shield the perpetrators.
Against this background, any wonder outcomes will be extra-judicial solutions like what the Telangana police did. Of course, the cops were buoyed by the fact public opinion bayed for retribution and the joyous reactions prove they emerged heroes.
Questionably, are extra-judicial killings the only way forward when justice is delayed in rape cases? Certainly, there are no easy answers but that the Telangana police took the easy way to solve a crime is indisputable. Even as we bemoan the violation of due process of law, we need to remember that when justice fails, as in case after case, instant justice will step in.
However, if the purpose of criminal laws is to not merely punish the wrongdoer but also ensure punishment serves as a deterrent for future crimes, then our judicial system is a huge failure. It punishes at snail’s pace, neither satisfying the victim’s quest for justice nor serving as a deterrent for potential violators.
Appallingly, sexual abuse remains widespread despite tightening of rape laws whereby four rapes happen every minute in India. Daily newspapers scream headlines of girls raped, women routinely stalked, assaulted and killed, harassed by police or bullied into silence by family. And the country goes into collective maatam.
According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, 39,000 sexual assaults occur every year, five rapes occur every minute and one woman is killed every hour. In a UN survey India ranked 85 out of 121 countries unsafe for women. Shockingly, 6.26 rapes take place for every 10,000 women.
Last year’s police records show rape registered a 9.2% rise over 2014 of which more than half (54.7%) of the victims were between 18 and 30 with Delhi accounting for over 17%. Abductions were up 19.4%, torture by 5.4%, molestation by 5.8% and trafficking by an alarming 122%. There were over 470,556 molestation cases, 315,074 kidnappings, rape 243,051 and modesty outrage 104,151.
Undoubtedly, toxic masculinity tells men it is okay even commendable to seize women who they can’t otherwise have. Topped, by our regressive society which ensures that if they cross limits there would find sympathisers and defenders who will pin the blame on the woman.
Clearly, in a society heavily loaded in favour of men, women and young girls live in an increasingly unsafe environment wherein they are viewed as sex objects and mince-meat for male lust camouflaged as human animals. Comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level. Perhaps it has something to do with our patriarchal lineage and misogynistic culture.
Worse, implementation of laws meant to protect women, post Nirbhaya are patchy. In 2016 over 35,000 rape cases were reported but only 7,000 were convicted. Tragically, women are on their own vis-a-vis their safety. There is no law against sexual assault or harassment and only vaginal penetration counts as rape. Horrifyingly, one Rajasthan hospital continues the “two-finger” test (doctors insert fingers into the vagina) to determine if a woman has been raped, despite the practice being banned in 2013. Sic.
Those who molest a woman are only booked for “insulting or outraging a woman’s modesty” or “intruding upon her privacy”. The maximum punishment is a year’s imprisonment, a fine or both. Besides, though a 2015 law mandates victims be paid Rs three lakhs as compensation just three of 50 rape survivors have got it.
By completely ignoring the systemic realities including police apathy towards rape survivors, poor investigation, a judgmental criminal justice system which goes for harsher punishments as a solution, our outrage seems superficial. Suggestive of us shying away from the responsibility as a society for sexual violence against women.
Undeniably, Telangana has shown the way and also served three purposes. One, it addressed the public fury. Two, a clear message rang out to accused and convicted rapists that they too could face a similar outcome from the police elsewhere. Three, it serves as a deterrence for potential criminals who, bet on the long process of law sparing them. Succinctly, even if the law spares them, the police will not.
But in a democracy, we cannot always take the law into our hands as this would result in chaos and anarchy and put India on the slippery slope to a tin-pot country status where upholders of law turn into violators.
The time has come for the police to document rapes and the judiciary to fast-track cases instead of lingering them for years. Women will truly be safe only when there is a transformative change in the social mindset of society. Else the extra-judicial processes will become a reality.
In sum, in an environ where incidents of moral turpitude pervades across the country, we need to seriously ponder for how long will women continue to be playthings at the hands of voyeuristic animals in the garb of men? A time to introspect: Balatkar aur apradhikaran akhir kab tak? — INFA