Another silent Nirbhaya

Dalit girl from Hathras dies after being brutally gang-raped. Where are the deterrent laws and action? Will we have to wait years again?

The “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaign is being slandered with each passing day as it becomes a “Beti Hatao, Beti Darao” mission in reality, with heinous crimes against the girl child and women going up every day across the country. So it is that just two days after Daughter’s Day, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was brutally gang-raped in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district. In a chilling throwback to the Nirbhaya case and the incident in Hyderabad not so long ago, the girl was left with her tongue cut out, ostensibly to prevent her from testifying. Her legs were bruised so severely and her spine was so lethally battered that she was completely paralysed while her arms could just about register a movement. Still she fought for her dear life over 15 days in hospital but gave up despite being brought to Delhi’s AIIMS. Yet there was no outcry for the last fortnight till she became just another cold statistic. Nobody mourned a young life snuffed out in its prime due to caste-based hatred, sexual depravity and a deteriorating law and order situation, particularly in the Hindi heartland. Exacerbating the situation, as usual, were the poorly conducted investigations and a slow justice system. The conviction rate for rape is only 27.2 per cent despite the fact that it accounts for 11.5 per cent of the total crime statistics. On an average, 91 rapes were reported every single day across India in 2018, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) says that trial in rape cases should be completed in 60 days but that never happens because of the tardiness of police investigations. Then there are judicial flaws that need to be plugged when it comes to rape, the primary being bail to the accused, which should be denied till the probe is completed. Some independent studies indicate that the average time of finishing trial even in fast track courts is eight months. And even if one were to get death penalty, acquittals, appeals and mercy petitions mean that only about five per cent death penalties are actually upheld by the Supreme Court. A traumatised rape survivor hardly has the courage to go through such travesty and gives up midway. The 2012 Nirbhaya rape, which shook the conscience of not just the nation but the world, too, compelled our parliamentarians to strengthen the punitive justice delivery system based on the recommendations of a committee that included eminent jurists. It led to some crucial amendments to the law, which included changing the very definition of “rape”, the establishment of fast-track courts to ensure victims get justice without undue delay, harsher punishments for the accused with the provision of death sentence being added to it and the abolition of the two-finger test among others. Two other such incidents, in Kathua and Unnao, where two children were raped, had widened the scope of punishment for raping a child under 12 to death penalty. Undoubtedly, there has been an increase in reportage of crimes against women after Nirbhaya though much of them are still under-reported. Besides, as the Hyderabad incident has shown, question marks remain on the use of the death penalty as criminals are now murdering their victims to destroy evidence. For the criminal, there is no deterrent. But yes, he can be stalled if deterrence is built into the system by fast-tracking procedures and ensuring swift justice. Conviction rates need to go up proportionately. At present, fast-track courts are no different from the usual courts in terms of case pile-ups and vacancies. A quick, fair and unbiased judicial set-up with requisite number of judges is a sine qua non. A continuously responsive system is a bigger deterrent than one or two landmark rulings.

The unchecked crimes against women and the girl child are also skewering gender equity in the rural hinterland. According to a study supported by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), that was conducted in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the increasing crimes against women have deepened preferences for a son. So much so that we have lost around 4,60,000 girls to sex selection at birth each year between 2013 and 2017, according to the UNFPA. When errants go scot-free and the woman’s family is left to wallow in pain and shame, a malaise becomes a societal archetype. And the girl child will continue to be vulnerable, either used as a tool in a caste war as the rapists in Hathras belonged to the upper caste, a sacrifice in a revenge drama or a family feud or a life cheap enough to be pawned by male-dominated codes. Predictably, there is a political slugfest over this latest incident, with the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) slamming the BJP Government in UP for the sorry plight of law and order in the State. Their protests will once again be tainted by the ruling party as “crocodile tears” and a “political conspiracy” to “defame the Government.” The Opposition will predictably make the rape a subset of excesses on Dalits. But neither the Opposition nor the ruling party was there for the girl when she was writhing in hospital for a fortnight. And much to the shame of India’s most populous State, nobody wants to roll back UP’s unique distinction of reporting the highest crime spiral against women. As for justice, will we have to wait another seven years?

Source: The Pioneer