Worse, police apathetic; conviction rates abysmally low

Mumbai is trailing New Delhi closely, with crimes against women continuing unabated in the commercial capital of the country. Everyday brings a more horrid story in the city, once known to be safe for women. The bigger problem is that the rate of conviction remains abysmally low. The victims’ problems are compounded by police apathy.

Even the Maharashtra State Commission for Women, which examines all matters of women’s safeguard, has been non-functional as the State government has not appointed the chairperson and six members since 2009.

Recently, a seven-year-old school girl was molested by her 21-year old neighbour, an engineering student from a well-to-do family. Just the previous day, a 25-year-old student was attacked with a sickle on a busy street in broad daylight, in a case of mistaken identity.

Last week, a nine-year old school girl was raped at Dombivali by her 24-year old neighbour. The same day a 40-year-old woman was teased at Thane and her husband and son were thrashed for protesting.

A few days earlier, a four-year-old was sexually assaulted by a 45-year-old autorickshaw driver who used to ferry the child to school. A 19-year-old domestic help was raped by a PAN card agent at Santacruz, while a 23-year-old homemaker was attacked by a 26-year-old divorcee for not responding to his advances. He burnt her face, spraying insecticide, after his attempts at creating a rift between her and her husband had failed.

The crimes against women, including senior citizens, show a continuous rising trend. What is disappointing though is the track record of prosecution.

Dubious distinction

According to statistics compiled by the State Crime Records Bureau of the Criminal Investigation Department, in 2011, Mumbai got the dubious distinction of having the highest number of rape cases (221) in Maharashtra. Also reported in the city were 553 molestation cases, 162 sexual harassment cases and 191 cases under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act.

Though there was a decrease in the overall crime rate throughout the State in 2011, crimes against women — kidnapping, dowry deaths, rape, molestation, and attempts to commit murder for dowry — rose.

“Under the crime heads, sexual harassment and molestation, conviction rates are as low as 5.4 and 7.7 per cent respectively. This matter calls for introspection by the executive and supervisory officers of the investigation wing,” the report admitted.

“The conviction rate is abysmally low in Mumbai. According to a White Paper we recently published on the ‘State of policing in Mumbai’, there are only 10 per cent convictions in serious crimes like rape, murder, grievous hurt, kidnapping and abductions,” Milind Mhaske, project director at the Praja Foundation, told The Hindu.

According to senior police officials, there are many reasons for the low conviction rate. Officers agreed that there was lack of coordination among the prosecutors, police and courts. Huge pendency of cases, lack of proper investigation before filing the charge sheet, insufficient evidence and lapses in following procedures were cited as some other reasons.

Courage counts for nothing

It is tragic that the victims, who gather the courage to approach the police, face grim chances of getting justice. What compounds their agony is the apathetic behaviour of police officers.

“I was molested in full public view by a friend in July this year. He was upset because I refused to continue my relationship with him after I came to know that he was cheating me. I approached the Deputy Police Commissioner of that zone, requesting him to register my complaint in another police station. I wanted to remain anonymous and feared that a police complaint in my area would disgrace my family and relatives. Despite repeated pleas, he did not listen to me and, in fact, intimated the accused. I had to turn back without registering a case. He still roams scot-free. I feel extremely agitated with the police,” says 27-year-old Shraddha Shisve (name changed to protect identity).