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While anti rape laws in India now have more stringent provisions for punishment, what is the reality of implementation? But with new laws, things may change.
It’s been more than three years since the government passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 after the aftermath of the unfateful events of December 16, 2012. The Amendment Act considerably changed the law relating to crimes against women; it provided for stricter punishments and introduced new categories of offences such as acid attack, sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking, rape during communal violence, sex by a person in authority and other forms of the offence of rape which were hitherto not mentioned as specific crimes.
The law was adopted with the objective of ensuring safer spaces for women by deterring the probable offenders with provisions for harsher punishments.
Yet, even when these measures were implemented, many believed that visible changes on the ground would take time to materialise. Especially so, when it came to police forces and law enforcement authorities employing them.
Three full years have passed but the women of our country fail to see any connection of the law so enacted with the so proposed objective. Has the law reduced the fear in our minds when we walk through dimly lit lanes clutching our phones tightly, thumb ready to press the speed dial? Have the mothers stopped worrying for their daughters who return late in night from work or travel? Is the acid not being thrown on women by harassers and stalkers?
I don’t know if the offenders have started fearing the enhanced sentences or not; all I know is that not much has changed on ground and the girls and women of this great land continue to live with that anguish and pain which they silently endure in their homes, schools, offices, buses and trains.
The ruling and development in the Nirbhaya case, however, has been a sign of further progress on this front. But some still believe that these changes in the rape law in India may not yield much fruit due to poor implementation and other inefficiencies.
The above sentiment questioning the rationale of mere enactment of strict laws without pushing for a change in societal mindset has come to be reflected in the recently published annual data on Crimes in India for the year 2015 by National Crime Records Bureau (Crime in India 2015 Statistics). A total of 34,651 cases of rape were reported last year of which Delhi accounted for 2,199 cases; whereas, attempt to commit rape accounts for a total of 4,437 reported cases. This number is excluding the large number of cases which are not reported.
The offences of assault with the intent to outrage modesty (which includes sexual harassment, assault or use of criminal force with intent to disrobe, voyeurism, stalking and others) have totaled to a grave number of 82,422 reported cases. The number of cases reported under the specific offence of insult to the modesty of women have rounded up to 8,685. A total failure of law, agencies of state and society can be seen from the fact that nine girls below 6 years of age were victims of incest rapes while 442 of this age group were victims of other forms of rapes.
Those of us who may come up with the contention that some of these registered cases are false, may also well keep in mind that owing to the patriarchal nature of our society, financial dependence of women on males, lack of faith in police system, fear of ostracisation, casteism, poverty and illiteracy a great number of offences against women go unregistered every year.
If these figures cause you dismay, the rate of conviction for such offences is even more disheartening. Owing to the bizarre ways in which the system of law and evidence works and the various tricks of this profession employed by lawyers, only about half of the total cases registered for rape completed the course of trial and a meagre 5,514 convictions were pronounced. The cases registered for other crimes against women also met the same fate with poor conviction rate.
Recently, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) ensured establishment of more child-friendly courts to make it easier for them to testify. On April 21, 2020, Prime Minister Modi issued a new ordinance to impose tougher sanctions against individuals convicted of rape.
For example, those convicted of raping minors below the age of 12, would be given the death penalty. In addition, those charged with the rape of a minor below the age of 16, would be issued a 20-year sentence.
However, the death penalty is still a hotly debated concept. Many activists have also raised the issue that a lot of the time, the assailant could also be a close relative. Even with more serious consideration of rape cases, many judicial observers also believe that the country lacks the infrastructure that would help fast-track trial for some of these heinous crimes.
It is high time we understand that laws, however strict and progressive, are reduced to mere paper tigers if the society and the state agencies do not share the same will and vigour. The fear in the minds of women is real and is here to stay as the increasing incidents of heinous crimes leave their footprints everywhere. What needs to be given a thought is whether the harshness of laws is directly proportional to the fear in the minds of probable offenders or – is a collective effort by the state, society and family needed in elevating the position and status of ‘woman’?
Top image via Pixabay
I am a law professor who aspires and dreams to make the world a safer
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