The widespread sense of awe and appreciation sparked off by the encounter killing of those accused in the rape and murder of the Telangana veterinarian last week, has raised concerns among human rights activists and civil society. Was it right, appropriate or even legal?
The poor record of punishing such offenders so far and the increasing frustration among citizens to see justice done has led to this extreme reaction of celebrating the encounter. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, G Kishan Reddy has said in Parliament that there are 1,66,882 pending cases of rape crimes against women in 31 states.
Generally, not all victims of rape lodge a complaint. Even if they do come forward, it is rare that the police conduct an enquiry immediately. Even if a case is registered, the accused escape punishment with the help of advocates who exploit several loopholes in the law, witnesses who turn hostile and lack of strong evidence. Since criminal penal codes are not easy to comprehend, many criminals escape punishment.
Landmark Vishaka guidelines
In 1997, Bhanwari Devi, a social worker in Rajasthan, was gang-raped by four men angered by her efforts to inform the police about a child marriage in their family. The victim approached court. After several years, the court acquitted all the accused saying they belonged to a higher caste and that they would not have touched a woman of a lower caste. The court questioned how four people of the same family could have raped a woman and also reasoned that one of the accused was too old to commit the crime. The acquittal drew widespread attention and became a landmark episode in the country’s women’s rights movement.
The court verdict became a debating issue, with people taking to the streets. Cases were filed in the Supreme Court by various organisations led by social worker Vishaka and that led to the promulgation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act – 2013.
Nirbhaya case and fund allocation
In the 2012 Nirbhaya case, the girl was raped, brutally killed and thrown out of a running bus. Many took to the streets demanding stringent punishment for the accused. Though the court verdict has come, the accused are yet to be punished.
The central government created a corpus of Rs 3,600 crore for the Nirbhaya Fund. Of this, Rs 767 crore was allocated to set up fast track courts to expedite enquiry of rape and sexual crime cases against women under the Nirbhaya scheme. But so far nothing has happened. The Union Home Ministry constituted a committee which found that of the 24,000 cases filed between April 2018 and February 2019 in seven north Indian states including Haryana and Delhi, only 4.1 per cent of the cases have been settled.
In the Kathua rape case in Kashmir, eight-year-old Asifa Bano was gang-raped and killed by a group of fundamentalists in a temple. The huge public outcry following the incident prompted the government to pass an ordinance to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, awarding death penalty for the rape of children under the age of 12. There are laws and amendments but whether they are effectively enforced is a million-dollar question.
Recently, in Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh, the accused who came out on bail burnt the victim. Now, people are questioning the granting of bail to such dangerous criminals.
The POCSO Act
- Mandates completion of investigation and trial within two–six months
- Three-month imprisonment for eve-teasing
- 20-year imprisonment or life term for rape of girls below 16 years of age
- Life term or death penalty for rape of girl children below 12 years
- Makes sexual crimes non-bailable
- Makes the accused responsible for medical expenses of the victim
- Mandates provision of compensation within 30 days
When will fast track courts be set up?
- In July 2019, the centre announced setting up of 1,023 fast track courts (at a cost of Rs 767 crore) to hear rape cases, of which 380 courts will hear only child rape cases. So far only 16 states have joined this mission. Tamil Nadu is yet to join. Only Rs 89 crore has been sanctioned for this project. Though it is said that 581 courts have been set up, there is no information regarding their functioning. All the cases have to be completed within a year
- “National Database on Sexual Offenders” (NDSO) has been launched by Ministry of Home Affairs to facilitate investigation and tracking of sexual offenders across the country by law enforcement agencies. It has uploaded details of 4.5 lakh serious sexual offenders
- It is found that in most of the rape cases, only friends, neighbours and relatives are involved
- 30 per cent of rape crimes happen in women’s shelters
- Encounters began in TN only during MGR’s regime in 1980 in the name of decimating Naxalites
- 555 encounters have happened in the country between 2009 and 2013
- Mohanraj, accused in the rape and murder of a girl and her brother in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, was killed in an encounter in 2010
Child Helpline: 1098
Sexual crime cases that rocked tamil nadu
In Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, the four men who sexually abused young women in the guise of love, videographed the act and threatened them, were arrested under the Goondas Act but now two of the accused have come out of it and no strict action has been taken in the case even after nine months. Several political, social and women's organisations took to streets strongly condemning the state government's move. It only proves that if the accused is an influential person in society, punishment is rare. Last year in the rape case of a differently-abled girl in Ayanavaram, 17 persons were arrested and one died in jail. While the investigations and trials are complete, the POCSO court is yet to deliver its order. If this can happen to a child in a metro, the plight of victims of incidents in Kundrathur, Srivaikundam and Ariyalur is even more pathetic. Last year alone 2,045 sexual abuse cases have been filed in Tamil Nadu. Of this, Chennai reported 218 child abuse cases under the POCSO Act. But there has been no verdict in even 10 cases. The victims’ families are upset with the judiciary as it has not followed the stipulation of the amended POCSO Act which calls for completion of the cases within two to six months. It is a big challenge for victims in rape cases to file cases and to get justice in o ur country. Court procedures have to be simplified and accessible to everyone.
News Research Department