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Retributive Justice

Retributive Justice

The gang rape and murder of a young Hyderabad-based veterinarian on November 27, which not only evoked national outrage but generated heated debates in the ongoing Winter Session of the Parliament, surprisingly took a sensational turn on December 6 as all the four suspects were killed in an encounter. 

Although complete details are yet to be made public, the four rapists on being taken to the spot of the crime for recreation of the crime scene were reportedly shot dead when they tried to escape.

The manner in which the vet had been gang raped and set on fire so brutally is so appalling. The fully burnt body was discovered only the next day. Does it not speak volumes of laxity in patrolling? The incident has once again brought into sharp focus the continuing spate of crimes against women. Notably, it also shows that measures purported to have been put in place towards women safety, post "Nirbhaya", are simply non-existent.

The previous evening, the victim reportedly travelled by a shared cab to reach a private hospital in Gachibowli after parking her scooty at Tondupally toll plaza to consult a dermatologist. When she returned to pick up her scooty, two men approached her claiming her vehicle had a flat tyre and offered to get it repaired. The duo returned later and informed that the nearby repair shop had closed. It was at about 9.22 pm that the victim called her sister and expressed her fear. Twenty minutes later finding the victim’s mobile switched off, her family approached the police to lodge a complaint only to be posed with uncomfortable questions besides citing jurisdiction issues despite clear directives in vogue enabling the filing of Zero FIR. Finally in the wee hours of the next morning the missing compliant was registered. Two days later, following a tyre mechanic’s crucial lead besides CCTV footage from different locations, including a fuel station and technical evidence, the case was cracked.  After killing the vet, according to reports her body was wrapped in a rug, transported to an underpass and set afire by the drunken rapists. Two of the four culprits who worked as truck drivers and two as cleaners were in their twenties. The Telangana Government had even notified a fast track court to deal with the case.

Have things actually changed after “Nirbhaya’s” death in 2012? 

Latest National Crime Records Bureau data (2017) indicates that at the national level, the total number of rape cases for trial was 1,46,201 but only 5,822 cases resulted in conviction. 32,559 rapes were reported in 2017. That means the conviction rate in rape cases is just 32.2% and even lower in metropolitan cities (27.2%).

Now looking the menace, why do men rape? According to Diana Scully, who conducted a detailed study on Understanding Sexual Violence for the US National Institute of Mental Health, rape is ‘a rewarding, low-risk act’. The lengths to which the rapists surveyed went to justify their crimes is mindboggling. They not only talked about their victims’ moral failings but consistently lied about details of their crimes to make themselves seem less violent and above all tried to represent rape as normal. It emerged that a man who is capable of rape generally commits the crime only if he believes it will be excused by his peers and that punishment can be evaded. It was further found that a remarkable number of men who met with these were not only unafraid of punishment, but blissfully unaware that what they did was criminal. Looking at this general picture, Scully concluded most rapes are the result of a ‘rape culture’ which tells men, that in many situations, raping women is not only normal behaviour, but completely safe.

Importantly, for some, rape is used as a method of revenge and punishment. While for others, it is a bonus added while committing another crime. Rape is used to gain sexual access to unwilling or unavailable women, and for some, it is a source of impersonal sex and power. Rape is also a form of recreation and adventure for some men and, finally, it is an act that makes them "feel good." 

Rapists cannot just get away unpunished. It’s not just a matter of private conscience but a public safety issue. But well, why are we not aggressively prosecuting sexual offenders? Primarily the criminal justice delivery system is facing various challenges nonetheless primarily, lack of infrastructure coupled with manpower problems seem to compound the situation. Take the case of Delhi. Nearly six years ago, the Delhi High Court observed that trial courts have been unable to expeditiously dispose of criminal cases for want of medical and scientific evidence as a number of issues are pending in the laboratories for years together. Thanks to the judiciary, a recent affidavit submitted in Delhi High Court admitted that approximately 140 cases per month were being received by Delhi’s lone Forensic Science Lab even as 2,800 cases were pending. The government however hopes that by the creation of additional posts, approximately 220 cases could be disposed per month.

Another disconcerting and diabolic report of a rape survivor from Unnao who survived the sexual assault last December but is now battling for her life is simply reprehensible. On 5 December five men, including two of the accused who are out on bail, allegedly set her on fire while she was on her way to court near Rae Bareilly. Aflame, she ran for a while before eyewitnesses saw her and informed police, which sent her to the Community Health Centre from where she was sent to the district hospital and then airlifted to Delhi for treatment.

There are no words to describe the pathetic condition of such hapless women who are literally being preyed upon by unscrupulous elements. But the law has to take its course, rather swiftly. As low conviction rate in rape cases is also attributed to the lack of coordination between the investigating officers and the public prosecutors, it is imperative that their operations are synchronised. For cases related to gender violence, deployment of predominantly trained women police officers merits consideration. Most people abide by the law. For those who regularly are motivated and consider committing acts of crime, beyond pro-active policing, such elements need to be engaged upfront. It is certainty of punishment which will serve as a deterrent.

(Published on 09th December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 50)