The gang-rape of Nirbhaya and her death are still fresh in our memory. As the nation witnessed an outpouring of outrage, laws were amended to make punishment to sexual assaulters harsher. Definition of rape was made wider. Strict action against public servants who fail to file FIR in sexual assault cases was incorporated. But the recent numbing incidents show that nothing has changed on the ground. Two weeks back, Telangana witnessed gang-rape of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor who was burnt alive after the barbarians took turns on her. The police wasted precious three hours, fighting over jurisdiction, to act on the complaint of her sister. The police have proved again their incompetency when the accused attempted to flee from their clutches. All the four culprits have been killed in ‘encounter’. ‘Punishment’ was handed out bypassing the legal system.
Even as the nation struggled to cope with the creeping numbness of these incidents, comes the news of setting on fire of a rape survivor by none else but the accused who were out on bail in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. This was a case in which the police had refused to file FIR for four months till they were forced to register one by a court. A few months back, two minor girls, both sisters, were found dead in Palakkad district of Kerala. Despite mother of the girls informing the police of suspected sexual abuse, the police closed the cases unceremoniously as incidents of suicide. The court came down heavily on the police for doing a sham investigation, despite a post mortem report suggesting sexual assault on the elder girl. There is complete callousness in dealing with cases of brutality against women.
There is no reason why cases of rape and murder should linger on for years. There should be enough fast-track courts to hand out the severest punishment expeditiously, in months if not weeks. Even when the convicts go on appeal, it should be fast-tracked and justice should be delivered without delay. Courts and governments should come down heavily on investigating officers who leave loopholes to help the accused. According to National Crime Records Bureau report for 2017, the conviction rate in rape cases is a mere 32 per cent. When majority of the accused go scot-free and those convicted are able to hold up the final delivery of justice, no deluge of outrage on streets is going to end these gruesome acts.
Punishment, even the rarest of rare one, alone will not work as a deterrent. There is need for political will to take on the issue head-on. But political parties give tickets to rape accused in Assembly and Parliament elections. According to reports, political parties gave tickets to scores of men who have been accused of sexual assault on women, in the recent Parliamentary elections. Ironically, as many as nine of them, belonging to various parties, became MPs. It is no different in State Assemblies. Winning chance of candidates, rather than their character, is kept as one of the criteria for giving tickets. Here safety of women takes a back seat. Before attempting to send human beings to moon, let us make girls and women safe in our own country.(Published on 09th December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 50)