Children are particularly vulnerable victims of sexual crimes. The cause for concern is although there is a specific legislation – the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act – a whopping 1.5 lakh cases are reportedly pending before 670 designated courts across the country. While around 33,000 cases are registered annually, the average disposal rate being pretty low has been responsible for pendency of cases.
It was only last week that the Apex Court directed for setting up of special courts in each district across the country that had over a 100 cases of child abuse and sexual assault pending trial under POSCO Act. The onus is on the central government to ensure these courts are equipped with requisite manpower including trained child support staff and special public prosecutors apart from special witness court rooms that shield the victim from the accused at all times. All of this has to be translated into a reality within the next two months.
Not long ago the Supreme Court had observed the victims of a sexual offence are often treated worse than the perpetrator of the crime. It emphasized the need to treat such survivors with sympathy and ensure that they are not harassed while seeking justice.
But this was exactly happened in the notorious Unnao rape case that shook the conscience of the nation after Nirbhaya. In June 2017, a minor girl in the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh was allegedly raped by a powerful local politician, his brother and other accomplices, after she had approached him for a job.
The ordeal did not end there and the chilling sequence of events is rather nauseating. After the police refused to entertain her complaint against the politician, the girl moved the court. Still frustrated, a year later, only when the girl tried to immolate herself in front of the house of UP Chief Minister in Lucknow, the case got into limelight.
A few days later, the victim’s father was jailed in an arms case and he died under mysterious circumstances. Following public outcry, the case was transferred to the CBI and the politician arrested immediately thereafter and jailed. Soon after the CBI filed the charge sheet, one of the main witnesses had also died mysteriously. However the trial in the case is yet to commence for want of a Judge.
Cries for help by the victim and her family amid reports of harassment and intimidation by the henchmen of the accused fell on deaf ears. But the courageous girl, undaunted by such obstacles, rightly decided to knock at the doors of the Supreme Court earlier this month. However, even before her petition dated 12 July could reach the Bench of the Chief Justice of India, last weekend, a truck collided dangerously on the vehicle she was travelling in. The ghastly tragedy not only took away the lives of two of her aunts but has left the girl and her lawyer critically injured. Despite a Court order, the designated security personnel were absent when the girl and her relatives met with the accident. They have all since been suspended.
As an immediate step the Apex Court has ordered for transfer of four cases related to her sexual assault from the CBI Court, Lucknow to the Court of District Judge, West, Tis Hazari Courts, Delhi. The case pertaining to the truck collision has also been transferred to the same Delhi Court and its investigation is required to be completed within a fortnight. The trial Judge in Delhi will have to commence the trial forthwith on a day to day basis and ensure completion of trial of all the five cases within 45 days from commencement of the trial. Taking into account the medical condition of the victim, the court observed that she can be shifted to another hospital from Lucknow if the situation so demanded. The Court also ordered the Uttar Pradesh Government to pay an interim compensation of Rs 25 lakh meant for the victim to her mother within a day besides providing adequate security and protection to the victim, her lawyer, mother and immediate family members by the Central Reserve Police Force.
At a time when the Unnao rape victim and her family face the danger of literally being wiped out of existence for taking on the influential accused, thanks to the Supreme Court’s intervention. It is a welcome step. The hope for speedy justice is imminent. Nonetheless, it is essential that even without the intervention of the top court, investigations in all cases involving women and children ought to be completed on time. This will serve as a deterrent and send home the signal that the powerful and mighty cannot get away after indulging in crimes against women and children. They have to be dealt with a heavy hand.
(Published on 05th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 32)