The only way the state can demonstrate its commitment to rendering justice to victims of sexual violence is by ensuring a speedy trial and procuring exemplary punishment for offenders. That trials that yield such outcomes have become more frequent is a matter of considerable satisfaction. The >sentencing of a Delhi taxi driver to a prison term for the remainder of his life for raping a passenger in December 2014 ought to be gratifying for two reasons. The final verdict has come within 11 months of the crime, and it imposes the maximum punishment available in law under penal provisions that were significantly strengthened in 2013. It was only three days earlier that a sessions court in Mumbai sentenced a man to >death for the rape and murder of a 23-year-old software engineer , although the conclusion that it was one of the “rarest of rare cases”, warranting the death penalty, will have to be tested in higher courts. It has been proved again that it is possible to end the cynicism about the country’s tardy judicial system and its reputation for being soft on gender crimes. But it will also need courageous survivors, efficient investigators, committed prosecutors and judges sensitive to the need to keep the trial on track. Last year, a Mumbai sessions court sentenced four men to life terms in the Shakti Mills gang-rape cases within seven months. The >Delhi gang-rape of December 2012 ended with death sentences for four and crossed both the trial and appeal stages in the High Court within 16 months. The common message from these fast-tracked trials is that the national outcry since the Delhi gang-rape for a progressive socio-legal structure to combat gender violence may not have been in vain.
However, what ought to concern the public more, especially in a society marked by entrenched patriarchy, is that public spaces are not as safe as they ought to be for citizens, and that predators do sometimes have the run of the streets. When >Uber driver Shiv Kumar Yadav sexually assaulted a passenger on another December day last year, it was a setback to the cause, as it highlighted the persistent lack of safety for women in the national capital. A man with a long history of sexual offences managed to conceal his past and break into the hail-a-ride cab system with a fake certificate and little background scrutiny. The lack of visible policing in a vast city with considerable scope for opportunistic crimes against women made passengers travelling alone added to their vulnerability. Stronger laws, quicker trials and convictions may foster trust in the criminal justice system. The idea that sexual offenders do not enjoy impunity and are ultimately made answerable to the courts is a source of comfort, but the possibility that such crimes will recur is not.