The life-term sentence for Asaram for the rape of a minor girl in his ashram has come at a time when crimes against women are sky-rocketing, but convictions are touching a new low. According to the National Crime Records Burau, as many as 39 crimes against women were reported every hour in 2016, but the year witnessed the lowest conviction rate of about 18 percent. What is outrageous is that the conviction rates have fallen drastically over the years even as rape and murder cases have gone up by leaps and bounds.
Whenever a heinous crime, especially rape and murder of minors, comes to light, there is a clamour for giving more teeth to laws. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 in the wake of Nirbhaya case, and the recent Ordinance imposing death penalty for rape of minors below the age of 12 are two cases in point. But introducing harsh laws means nothing if the conviction rate is abysmal. The need is to ensure conviction and plug loopholes in the implementation of laws.
A close look at the treacherous path leading to the sentencing of Asaram provides enough clues to the enormous task in getting the accused convicted in such cases. The case is illustrative of many pitfalls in the law and its implementation in getting the conviction of an accused even in the most heinous crimes. Asaram’s minor victim had to run from pillar to post to get an FIR registered. As she could not do it in Jodhpur, the place of the despicable act, she had to travel all the way to Delhi to get it registered. This led to killing and kidnapping of witnesses. The victim and her father were threatened with death to take back the complaint. The headmaster of the school where she studied was offered incentives to change her age to make her an adult. As he did not succumb to such enticements, he was gifted with a bullet wrapped in paper, sending out a chilling message of what was in store for him. But he stood his ground. The victim’s lawyer was offered humongous amounts of money to back down, but he too proved a hard nut to crack. The end result is sending Asaram behind bars till his death.
But in most heinous crimes, the criminal justice system collapses in the face of threats and inducements. Police file closure report as happened in the lynching case of Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan despite the dying declaration of the victim naming the accused. Forensic reports are tampered with to help the accused. Rape survivors face unimaginable hardships in police stations and hospitals during medical examination. Investigating officers purposefully destroy tell-tale evidence of crime as happened in Kathua rape and murder case. Witnesses are forced to turn hostile as in the Sohrabuddin encounter case wherein 52 of 76 of those who have deposed so far backtracked from their original confessions.
Such happenings make the wheels of justice get stuck and the accused come out without a scratch. Above all, the lingering of trial and other proceedings in most of the ‘brutal, barbaric and diabolic’ cases take the sheen off the justice delivery system. Hence enacting of new laws, howsoever stringent they may be, alone will not help. Ensuring swift conviction is the real deterrent; it will send out the right message.(Published on 30th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 18)