ISSUE Lawyers and civil society representatives feel that the recurring cases of sexual violence against women call for a revision of laws

The preceding year has seen many cases of sexual violence against women. Not that it was any less in the years gone by, but the recent gang-rape incident in the Capital surpassed all limits of patience and tolerance. And again the age old question cropped up — why are such crimes still on rise? From demonstrative patrolling and women-friendly police stations to fast tracking of trials in rape cases, civil society is demanding many legal reforms in the forthcoming year. We talked to a few experts on the existing loopholes in our legal system and measures to amend them.

On the Law – While the present law under section 375 of the IPC defines rape as sexual intercourse through penetration, Asim Sarode, a Human Rights Analyst and advocate, says that there is a huge gap between what is legally mentioned as ‘Outraging modesty of woman’ and actually committing offence of ‘rape’. “If a person does everything to try to rape a woman but does not actually penetrate then legally that is not ape. However, if they enjoy sex by using some object, it will amount to only “outraging modesty of woman,” he says. Hence, the definition of rape needs to be exhaustive. Besides, he finds that sexual harassment is not just limited to the woman on the street, but in offices and domestic front as well. “The Supreme Court has issued clear guidelines on setting up of Vishakha committees as a space to speak out against sexual harassment at workplaces. Leave alone government institutions, even courts have turned a deaf ear to applying these guidelines,” sighs Sarode.

On fast track courts – While several protestors are demanding fast tracking of trials in such cases, Sarode says that the fast track court is a ‘farce’ and only misguides the common man. “If all the criminal cases have to be dealt with according to the Criminal Procedure Code then how can any court be fast or slow? Speedy justice is the right of every person.”

On sentencing of punishment – Jayadevan Nair, a law professor at Amity Law School, says that the “leeway of discretionary power accorded to a judge to decide to lower the quantum of sentence for special reasons (as per section 376) should be deleted from the statute. Rather, the minimum sentence on the statute book should be rigorously applied in order to act as a deterrent once the inference of rape has been made (nothing shorter than 7 years).”

On death penalty and castration – While many activists feel that death penalty/castration are befitted in such cases, Nair says this is not a permanent solution.

“There could be a propensity on the perpetrator to kill the victim as she would be a witness against the perpetrator. Further, the offender might be susceptible to reformation.” Echoing similar sentiments, Sarode says, “Sex is a ‘mental state of mind’ and we cannot consider any castrated man as non-dangerous. In fact, after castration he will perform sexual assaults in other heinous ways. Life imprisonment can be an appropriate punishment.”

Suggested measures – Nair says such crimes can be averted if the government takes a few preventive measures.

These should include helplines for women and children from the tier of panchayat upwards, women and child welfare commissions in every village and women-friendly police stations administered by women among others.

Nair avers that courts presided over by women judges that function in a time-bound manner with limited avenues of appeal would go a long way in instilling a sense of seriousness with respect to tackling the crime.

“There should be proper and immediate economic, medical, legal support available for the rape victims,” adds Sarode. He also opines that only private lawyers should be allowed to represent the victims because many times public prosecutors just represent the police and State forgetting the victim's rights and plights.

Sensitising the police on such issues is also a grave concern that needs to be addressed. Fifty per cent of such cases will disappear just by doing so, feels V.N. Rai, Director, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy.

The mentality of society towards rape and victims of rape, Nair says, can be changed only by including an understanding of it and dispelling false notions about it in the gender studies syllabi in schools and colleges.


Risking a walk in the darkJanuary 13, 2013