Protests by youth at India Gate and Rajpath against the brutal rape of a young woman by a few barbarians in a moving bus in Delhi are commendable as they led to the appointment of a three-member committe headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Sri J.S.Verma. For more than a decade, I had pleaded for an independent investigating agency and fast trial of cases involving atrocities against women but failed to get any response. The most important cause for the rise in atrocities against women is the lack of fear of punishment. In our country, the law rarely punishes and when it does, it is inadequate, that too after many many years. In such a situation, how can the law deter crime? The stigma is against the victim, not against the rapist. The fear of God is fading and idols are stolen; the assets of religious institutions are being swindled. Values like respect for women, justice and humanism are disappearing.
Moving on to the remedies, our criminal justice system has to be reformed, investigating agencies have to be freed from the clutches of the political executive, as has been done in European democracies. In Italy and France, investigation is done by Investigating Magistrates who are a part of the judiciary. In our country, police hesitate to register cases against criminals with connections with either the ruling party or the party that is likely to come to power. Even if they do, they do not investigate the cases sincerely, again under political pressure. If they cannot investigate sincerely, they cannot gather evidence which is essential for the conviction of the accused. Investigation also suffers owing to the pressure of work like VIP bandobust.
Moving on to the trial, criminals are mostly acquitted or punished inadequately after a long time, defeating the very purpose of deterring crime. The reasons are many: too many cases before a court; lack of special courts to deal exclusively with serious crimes like rape and murder; problems in providing evidence beyond doubt; and provision for more than one appeal.
These handicaps, coupled with the high cost of litigation, force women to give up the fight and criminals are getting emboldened.
An independent investigating agency with constitutional status like the State Election Commission under the Panchayati Raj Act should be constituted to investigate crime impartially and efficiently.
Women organisations and eminent citizens should prepare a panel of persons known for their impartiality, integrity and capability. A few members from the panel may be selected by the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of the High Court for appointment as Chairperson and members of the State Investigating Agency. If they have to be removed before the completion of the term, it shall be done only through impeachment by Parliament.
The investigating authorities should be equipped for evidence gathering. The agency shall complete investigation within three months. If gathering evidence becomes difficult, three more months can be given.
For speedy trial, day-to-day special courts may be constituted in each district for dealing exclusively with atrocities against women and all murders. These courts should give their verdict within three months. Provision for only one appeal to the High Court or the Supreme Court may be provided.
The High Court or the Supreme Court should deliver its verdict within three months. To facilitate speedy trial, benches of the High Court or the Supreme Court may be established in different parts of India.
If these reforms are undertaken, criminals can be quickly punished and this will act as a deterrent. Many are advocating the death sentence which might lead to the murder of victim in a bid to suppress evidence. Life imprisonment which involves manual work in jail might serve as a deterrent.
No doubt, helplines and mobile police vans are of help. Before this help reaches, women should be able to defend themselves. For better mobility, women should say ‘sorry’ to sari and switch to Punjabi dress and learn karate so that they can defend themselves in case of an attack. They should always keep a mobile phone with them.
When they anticipate trouble, they should inform their kith and kin. An individual is not a force, but becomes a force if she or he forms groups.
Self-defence groups should be formed in every locality, schools, colleges and offices. They should be trained in defending women in crisis. Whoever is around, be it male or female, should help a woman under attack.
Every rapist or criminal is the son of a woman. Every mother should inculcate respect for women in her sons just as Jijiya Bai instilled in her son Chatrapati Shivaji.
Respect for women should be promoted through education in schools and colleges, and through the media.
A campaign should be launched against the stigma associated with the rape victim and other double standards like chastity only for women.
( The writer is Director, I.A.S. Study Circle, Hyderabad. email: firstname.lastname@example.org )