On revamping rape laws and police procedures

“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it,” says feminist and writer Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth.

To put it simply, creating laws safeguarding women’s rights without giving heed to women’s voices, serves no purpose at all.

Currently, close to a lakh cases of rape are pending in the courts, compromising the safety and security of the women awaiting justice. Bullied by the perpetrators, society and even the establishment set up for women’s safety, the women fight an endless chain of oppression.

Jagmati Sangwan, head of Women’s Study Centre in Rohtak spoke about 42 cases of gang rape within a period of two months in Haryana at a discussion on rape laws at Indian Women’s Press Corps in the Capital recently.

Our society has postponed space for women and for dalits… a lot of violence comes from the structures built for the safety of women, she says. “First overhaul our political, security and judiciary and weed out the sexists misogynists from there. Then only we can talk of implementation of any other change in our laws and their implementation,” she says.

“The nature of rapes happening now has changed. Recently, 12 people, including brothers and relatives, raped a Class 12 girl, the manner in which, it showed it was no longer a sexual activity, but violent and in order to teach a lesson.” It is as if these men cannot stand the independence of women who are coming forward as individuals even in matters of a life partner and making choices. For many women in Haryana marriage itself is like a jail, she says.

A speedy disposal should be a must for sexual assault cases that include not only violence through rape but also through molestation, stalking, acid attacks, against minorities, caste rapes, custodial and institutional, says Dr Indu Agnihotri, Centre for Women’s Development Studies.

Women’s groups that have come together to give suggestions to the Justice Verma Committee say that the committee should expand its limited agenda and examine whether laws related to sexual assault in the IPC are adequate.

“We recommend that fast track courts be set up to deal with all cases of sexual assault and give their judgments within three months. For quicker trials we need a time-bound investigation of cases of one month, which is also efficient,” says Kirti Singh, senior advocate, Supreme Court.

There should be Standard Operating Procedures for the police to follow when faced with a victim of sexual assault. A Standing Order issued after directions given by the Delhi High Court in judgments in 2003, 2007 and 2008 state that a lady police official will be present in each police station, that the ‘victim’ and her ‘family’ will be made ‘comfortable’ and that the IO along with the lady police officer will escort the ‘victim’ for medical examination. The order also stipulates that no ‘victim’ of sexual assault shall be called or made to stay in the police station during the night and that the statement of the ‘victim’ will be recorded in private in the presence of family members unless it is a case of ‘incest’. However, these orders are seldom followed by the police in letter and spirit, say the women activists.

“We should rethink death penalty for rape and do not want to prescribe it as a knee jerk reaction. Having said that, we need sustainable and systematic changes with speedy and certainty of justice,” says Dr Ranjana Kumari, Centre for Social Research.