Violence Against Women in India
The Delhi Gang Rape of December 2012
Violence against women in India has generally gone unreported and even accepted as a normal part of life. Things seemed to change somewhat when, on December 16, 2012 the horrendous gang rape and attempted murder of a 23-year medical intern in a Delhi bus led to nationwide protests and general public outcry, which mobilised the government machinery into action. The girl and a male friend were on their way home on the night of 16 December 2012 after watching a film in South Delhi. At Munirka, they boarded a chartered bus for Dwarka that was being driven by joyriders. There were only six others in the bus, including the driver. One of the men, a minor, had persuaded them to board by saying that the bus was going towards their destination. The woman's friend became suspicious when the bus deviated from its normal route and its doors were shut. When he objected, the six men already on board taunted the couple, asking what they were doing alone at such a late hour.
When the woman's friend tried to intervene, he was beaten, gagged and knocked unconscious with an iron rod. The men then dragged the woman to the rear of the bus, beating her with the rod and raping her while the bus driver continued to drive. Medical reports later said that the woman suffered serious injuries to her abdomen, intestines and genitals due to the assault, and doctors said that the damage indicated that a blunt object (suspected to be the iron rod) may have been used for penetration. According to police reports the woman attempted to fight off her assailants, biting three of the attackers and leaving bite marks on them. After the beatings and rape, the attackers threw both the victims from the moving bus. Then the bus driver allegedly tried to drive the bus over the woman, but she was pulled aside by the male friend.
The partially clothed victims were spotted on the road by a passer-by at around 11 PM, and, with the help of the police, the couple was taken to Safdarjung Hospital where the lady was given emergency treatment. The doctors found only five percent of her intestines remaining. Even in hospital, the girl displayed exemplary fortitude and courage, which did not fail to win the admiration of the attending doctors and the media. She was later sent by the Government for specialized treatment to Singapore, but her life could not be saved.
The sheer brutality and gruesomeness of the crime, as well as the bravery displayed by the girl, and her tenacious attempts to save her honour, shook the nation to a sense of shock and deep indignation. The incident and developments connected with it continued to grab the headlines of newspapers for weeks together. Panel discussions on TV and comments on the Internet kept the incident, as well as the issue of atrocities against women, in sharp focus. The incident received wide international coverage also, and was condemned by various women's groups, both in India and abroad. Subsequently, public protests against the Government of India and the Government of Delhi for not providing adequate security for women took place in New Delhi. Similar protests followed in major cities throughout the country. All the accused were arrested and charged with sexual assault and murder.
Amendments in Criminal Law
The Delhi gang rape has resulted in sweeping amendments to our criminal laws concerning rape and other offences against women, as well as in several positive measures to ensure safety of women. Based on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, a new set of laws known as the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 has come into force from 3 February 2013. It has introduced certain new offences, namely Acid Attack, Attempt to Acid Attack, Sexual harassment, Act with intent to disrobe a woman, Voyeurism and Stalking. A punishment ranging from 7 years to life imprisonment has been prescribed for human trafficking. The word ‘rape’ in the IPC has been replaced with ‘sexual assault’, whose definition is broadly worded and gender neutral. The new definition includes penetration of vagina, anus, mouth and urethra by penis or any other part of the body as well as by any object. The word ‘penetration’ now means ‘penetration to any extent’ and lack of physical resistance is immaterial to the commission of the offence. Touching of private parts is also included in the definition. The punishment for sexual assault has been made much more severe. A minimum punishment of seven years’ imprisonment has been prescribed for ordinary cases of sexual assault, of ten years in aggravated cases and of twenty years in case of gang rape. The maximum punishment in all these cases is imprisonment for life. Where a person committing sexual assault inflicts on the victim an injury which results in her death or which leaves her in a permanent vegetative state, the minimum punishment would be imprisonment for twenty years and the maximum either life imprisonment or death. Recording of the statement of the rape victim has been made easier and friendlier, character of the victim is now irrelevant as evidence, and there is a presumption of no consent where the woman testifies in court that sexual intercourse took place without her consent.
Steps taken to ensure women’s safety
Besides the amendment in the law, the widespread protests related to the Delhi gang rape case prompted governments at the Center and States to announce steps to ensure women’s safety. For example, the Karnataka government announced the launch of a 24/7 dedicated helpline to be operated by the state police to register sexual abuse complaints from women. It also is exploring the possibility of setting up fast-track courts to dispose of pending cases relating to crimes against women. Likewise, the Tamil Nadu government announced a 13-point action plan to ensure safety of women in Tamil Nadu and said that incidents of sexual assault would be treated as a grave crime and would be investigated by top police officials. The Chief Minister also said that daily hearings would be conducted in all sexual abuse cases in the state for speedy trials at specially constituted fast-track courts. In Delhi six such courts have been functioning.
Reopening of Cases
The heroism and courage of the Delhi girl emboldened other girls from all parts of the country to come out with their stories of rape or sexual exploitation. Investigation and trial of some rape cases, which had been limping along for several years, suddenly galloped forth. One such case was that of Bitty Mohanty, son of a retired DGP, who, while undergoing a seven-year term for raping a German tourist, had jumped bail and was now working in Kerala under an assumed name. His arrest after seven years of hiding was a direct result of photos of sex offenders being flashed on TV and the Internet in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape.
Rapes continue unabated
But if people had hoped that the public outrage against the Delhi gang rape, or stricter legislation and measures, would result in abating the flood of crimes against women, they were soon proved wrong. Rape after rape continued to be reported from all corners of India. March 2013 saw the shocking rape of a 39-year-old Swiss woman by a group of eight men while she was touring by bicycle with her husband. In the same month a young British lady had to jump out of a hotel window in Agra to escape an attempted sexual assault. In June, an American tourist was gang-raped by a group of men in a hill resort in northern India. Then came the Mumbai gang rape of August 22, 2013, involving a 22-year-old photojournalist. Out on an assignment, she was raped in a deserted textile mill in central Mumbai by five men who first beat up and tied her male colleague. Utter disregard for the law, total fearlessness and recklessness is often displayed by the offenders. An example is the alleged gang rape of a woman constable by two of her colleagues when she had gone to Jhansi from Etawah on official duty. As per the complaint, the accused constables have met her at the railway station and offered to drop her at her place of duty. Though the rape took place on September 28, 2015, the FIR could be filed only after a week following intervention of senior police officers. (News report dated October 6, 2015 appearing in the Hindustan Times). Yet another case of similar nature (i.e. rape by persons meant to protect) is mentioned in a news report dated October 9, 2015: “School guard, peon rape minor, film act to terrorise her”. Even rapes of minors and toddlers are not uncommon. Witness the news report dated October 18, 2015 in the Hindustan Times titled: “Ghastly rapes of two minors rattle Delhi”. As per this report, a two-and-a-half-year old and a five-year-old girl were gang-raped in separate attacks in New Delhi. The former was allegedly kidnapped from near her home in West Delhi by two men on a motorcycle, who, after sexually assaulting her, dumped her in the area, profusely bleeding. According to a news item dated October 21, 2015, an Uber cab driver has been found guilty by a Delhi court of having raped and assaulted last year a 25-year old woman passenger. Another sad commentary on the safety of women passengers in India is provided by the following news of October 7, 2015: “Bengaluru gang rape reminds of December 16 horror. A 22-year old call-centre employee was gang-raped by two men inside a minibus in Bengaluru, an incident that revived horrific memories of the fatal assault on a paramedical student in the national capital nearly three years ago”.
In many parts of the world, rape is very rarely reported, and India is no exception. The main reason for this is the social stigma attached, or the fear of ostracism or reprisals. Other reasons in India are the indifferent or hostile attitude of the police and lengthy court procedures.
According to the latest report (2014) of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were 33,764 victims of rape and 33,707 reported rape cases in the country during the year 2013. 13.1% of the total victims of rape were girls under 14 years of age, 26.3% were teenaged girls, while 0.7% (i.e. 256) of the rape victims were women over 50 years of age. The rape rate was the highest in the national capital Delhi. The report on ‘Status of Women in India’, released in November 2015 by a committee constituted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, reveals an alarming rise in rape cases in India over the years. The cases doubled from 16,075 in 2001 to 36,705 in 2014.
Acid attacks on women are another perverted and sadistic form of violence practised against them. Women in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia face the highest risk of acid attacks. The poorer among them are especially vulnerable. It is noteworthy that these three countries rank very low in the Global Gender Gap Index, so that violence against women seems to have a link with their status in society. Acid attacks are intended to serve as a lesson to the victim and to ‘put her in her place’. In India acid attacks are often a form of revenge against women who, for example, dared to refuse a man’s proposal of marriage or asked for a divorce. Acid attacks are also used to enforce the caste system. Land, property and/or business disputes account for about 20% of the acid assaults.
Until recently, there was no separate law dealing with such incidents, and data was not collated. But the gang rape in New Delhi prompted the government to consider strengthening the laws on violence against women. It resulted in an amendment to the penal code that made acid attacks a standalone offence with a minimum of 10-year prison sentence and a maximum of life for perpetrators.
In July 2013 the Supreme Court announced a raft of orders to regulate the sale of acids in an attempt to curb attacks on women. It ruled that acid should be sold only to people above 18 with valid identity cards. Buyers will have to explain why they need the substance, sales must be reported to the police and, in the case of an attack, the accused will not be granted bail. In addition, acid attack survivors will receive 3 lakh rupees from state governments.
Through yet another order dated April 10, 2015, the Supreme Court has directed private hospitals across the country to provide immediate and free treatment to acid attack victims. This shall include corrective surgeries. The hospital to which the patient is initially admitted shall issue a certificate to the effect that she is an acid attack victim, and this certificate can be used for claiming further benefits. However, in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) heard by the Supreme Court on December 7, 2015, it has been alleged that this direction of the Supreme Court was still not being complied with by the private hospitals.
In its order on the above-mentioned PIL, the Supreme Court has directed all states and union territories to consider acid attack survivors as disabled people, a direction likely to help rehabilitate women who become victims of such attacks. Once they are included in the disability list, the victims can benefit from several government schemes meant for physically handicapped people, such as 3% reservation in government jobs.
In the matter of combating acid attacks and supporting the victims, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been playing a commendable and vital role. Organizations and campaigns like the Palash Foundation and ‘Stop Acid Attacks’, founded by acid attack survivors, have been helping other survivors with psycho-social rehabilitation, besides conducting research in this area and pressurizing the government to do more for the afflicted women.
Meanwhile, acid attacks on women in India continue to take place with unfailing regularity. The year 2014 saw a never-before 309 acid attack incidents being reported from across the country. This is about 300 per cent more than the average number of such cases reported during the preceding three years. The number of persons arrested was only 208 as against 309 cases reported. Hitting the headlines recently, on November 14, 2015, was the case of a 23-year-old Russian woman staying as a paying guest in Varanasi. She sustained severe burn injuries on her face, eyes, hands and body as a result of acid thrown on her by the host’s grandson whose marriage proposal she had rejected.
It is widely believed that the figures for reported cases represent only the tip of the iceberg, as a large number of cases of acid attacks go unreported. As per a BBC news report dated 18 July 2013, there are about 1000 acid attacks in India each year.
That neither the stricter punishment prescribed by recent legislation nor the directives of the Supreme Court have succeeded in curbing the menace of acid attacks is obvious from the above. A positive correlation has been observed between acid attacks and ease of acid purchase. The Supreme Court has no doubt, by its order dated July 2013, directed that the sale of acid be strictly regulated. But even after the lapse of two and a half years, governments of states and union territories seem to have done precious little towards implementation, even though only three months were given by the Court for this purpose. Very little publicity has been given to the Supreme Court directives, and shopkeepers as well as most members of public seem to be blissfully unaware of them. Sulphuric, nitric and hydrochloric acids continue to be available at small shops throughout India at the ridiculously low price of about Rs.20 a litre, and that too without any restriction. Though the Supreme Court allowed over-the-counter sale of acids subject to certain restrictions, such as shops maintaining details of quantities sold and addresses of buyers, as well as checking photo identity cards of the buyers, yet in actual practice, such restrictions are difficult to observe, especially by small, semi-literate shopkeepers, who sell the acids mainly as toilet and floor cleaners. Now that a large number of branded toilet and floor cleaners are available in the market, there seems no justification for the sale of acids for this purpose. Supply of acids can be strictly regulated through government channels, mainly for use in educational and research institutions, manufacturing establishments, etc. Moreover, higher duties on acids can be levied so as to make them costlier, whereas prices for educational institutions can be subsidised.
Dowry deaths is another form of violence against women, which is widespread in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and some regions of Africa. Most dowry deaths in India are by way of either suicide by the harassed and tortured woman or ‘bride burning’, an extremely cruel form of violence in which the bride is set on fire.
Although dowry deaths in India are slightly less than those in Bangladesh or Pakistan, they constitute a significant issue. Moreover, it is widely believed that dowry deaths are consistently under-reported, and also many such deaths are successfully disguised as accidents or kitchen-fires.
The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry as consideration for the marriage, where ‘dowry’ is defined as a gift demanded or given as a pre-condition for a marriage. Gifts given without a pre-condition are not considered dowry and are legal. Asking for or giving dowry can be punished by an imprisonment of up to six months or a fine up to 5000 rupees. This Act replaced several pieces of anti-dowry legislation that had been enacted by various Indian states. This and other more stringent laws, such as Section 498A of the IPC (enacted in 1983), have been the result of persistent campaigning by women’s rights activists. Using the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, a woman can put a stop to the dowry harassment by approaching a domestic violence protection officer. Some religious groups have urged the people to curb extravagant spending during marriages. In 1986 the Indian Parliament added a new Section, viz. 304-B, to the Indian Penal Code. According to this, where a bride “within 7 years of her marriage is killed, and it is shown that, soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband, or any relative of her husband, or in connection with any demand for dowry, such death shall be called ‘dowry death’ and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death”. The offenders can be sentenced for any period ranging from a minimum of 7 years in prison to a maximum of life”.
The fight to end dowry deaths in India and other countries has not been confined to these nations’ borders. Reports of these incidents have attracted a great deal of public interest and have sparked a global activist movement to end the practice. In particular, the United Nations (UN) has played a pivotal role in combating not only dowry deaths but violence against women as a whole. In 2009 UNICEF launched its first Strategic Priority Action Plan for Gender Equality, which was followed by a second Action Plan in 2010. The aim of these plans has been to make gender equality a higher priority within all international UNICEF programs and functions.
Amnesty International, in an effort to educate the public, has cited dowry deaths as a major contributor to global violence against women. Also, in their annual human rights evaluations, Amnesty International criticizes India for the occurrence of dowry deaths as well as the impunity provided to perpetrators. In 2011, the Human Rights Watch also criticized the Indian government for its inability to make any progress towards eliminating dowry deaths and its lacklustre performance in bringing offenders to justice.
In spite of all the stringent laws and campaigns against dowry, statistics for the past 12 years from 2001 released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in August 2013 show that such deaths have only increased over the years. From January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2012 the number of dowry deaths reported was 91,202. Out of these, in 84,013 cases the accused were charged and sent for trial, and the remaining cases were either withdrawn by the government during the course of investigation or not investigated. While 6,851 dowry deaths were reported in the country in 2001, the figure reached 7,618 in 2006 and touched 8,233 in 2012. In all states, the number of dowry death acquitted cases was always much higher than those convicted.
“With prosperity burgeoning after the early 1990s when India's state-controlled econonmy opened up to a free market system, this pernicious system became more acute with greedy grooms backed by their families seeking to get rich through their helpless brides”.
In 2009 India's Supreme Court declared that no mercy should be shown to those found guilty of burning brides for not bringing adequate dowry. Justice Markanday Katju, in response to an appeal filed by a husband convicted of burning his wife, observed: “On one hand people regard women as devi (goddess), on the other hand, they burn them alive. This is against the norms of civilized society. It's barbarous”.
With the advancement in technology new forms of violence against women have emerged. Most prevalent of these is the practice of sex-selective abortion, which involves terminating a pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the baby. The selective abortion of female foetuses is most common in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children, such as in parts of People’s Republic of China, India, Pakistan and the Caucasus. Sex-selective abortion has been seen as worsening the sex ratio in India, affecting gender issues. According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went up from 104 males per 100 females in 1981 to 109.4 in 2011. The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab and Haryana. The use of ultrasound and abortion for sex selection has been banned since 1994. However, there is evidence that the ban is rarely enforced, and numerous dedicated sex selection clinics operate in many regions. The practice is most common among the educated and wealthy, who are most likely to afford the procedure. Women’s rights activists have blamed the police for not enforcing the laws effectively.
Eve-teasing is a euphemism used throughout South Asia (which includes India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) for public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men. Considered a problem related to delinquency in youth, it is a form of sexual aggression that ranges in severity from sexually aggressive remarks, brushing in public places and catcalls to groping. (Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopaedia).
Indian law does not use the term ‘eve teasing’ and accordingly to offenders was till recently meted out under various sections of the IPC dealing with different aspects of the offence. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 introduced changes to the Indian Penal Code, making sexual harassment an express offence under Section 354-A, which is punishable with up to three years of imprisonment and/or with fine.
Eve teasing often does not remain confined to mere ‘teasing’ but takes an ugly turn. Witness a news headline appearing on November 19, 2015: “Girl killed for objecting to eave-teasing attempt”. As per this report, a youth in Pratapgarh district hit two Class 10 girls with his motorcycle, killing one of them, when they objected to his advances. When the girl’s uncle caught the offender, the latter’s family members reached there and got him released.
Overall increase in crimes against women
The graph of crimes against women continues to rise. In the year 2013, there was an increase of 26.7% in such crimes over the previous year and an increase of 51.9% over the year 2009. The proportion of IPC crimes committed against women in relation to total IPC crimes had increased during the last five years from 9.2% in the year 2009 to 11.2% during the year 2013.
Why the Increase?
The reasons for the failure of governmental measures to curb crimes against women are not far to seek.
i) Half-hearted Implementation
In part, it has been due to the half-heartedness of the measures themselves. For example, although the government prohibited dowry through legislation in 1961, this was never implemented properly. Prohibition officers were supposed to have been appointed in each district, taking the battle to the grassroots, but nothing happened. And young brides continued to be sacrificed at the altar of greed.
More recently, in the framing of laws and measures to stop crimes against women, in implementation of the Verma Committee recommendations, the same lukewarm approach of the government is discernible. The panel had come up with a recommendation that “sexual offences by armed forces and uniformed men in conflict areas” be brought under ordinary criminal law. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, personnel in conflict areas are not under civilian law. The Act has been widely criticized by activists, especially after the 2004 case of Manorama Devi, a woman allegedly picked up by soldiers of the Assam Rifles for suspected complicity with insurgents, and who was raped and killed. The issue came up again in October 2011, when Soni Sori, a resident of Chhatisgarh, was arrested on charges of being a courier for the Maoists, and was then allegedly assaulted with stones forced inside her vagina. Needless to say, such acts of vulgar brutality on the part of the Armed and para-military forces cannot be tolerated. How can violence against women be brought down if those in authority are allowed to commit such crimes with little fear of punishment? Moreover, these uniformed men often serve as role models for the ordinary man, and the impact their savage behaviour has on moral values in society can well be imagined.
The Verma panel had also proposed that sex offenders be barred from political office. This too has not been implemented. Political parties continue to ignore and condone deviant sexual behaviour on the part of their members, and bow only to the pressure of the media or of vehement public protests.
Likewise, the Supreme Court directives of July 2013 in regard to regulating the sale of acids remain largely ignored by the state governments.
ii) Feudal Society
Yet another block in the way of creating a secure environment for our women is the feudal nature of our society and the cult of sycophancy. One example of this is the fact that political leader Amarmani Tripathi, who first sexually exploited the young poetess Madhumita Shukla and then got her murdered when she refused to abort her pregnancy, was able to get the help of certain police officials in the commission of the gruesome crime. Moreover, even when his guilt was becoming quite clear, people in his village continued to demonstrate in his support. Cases reported in the media from time to time reveal the extent to which local politicians and the powerful classes in villages can hold the entire village in awe with the help of their henchmen and sycophants, and how the honour of village women is sometimes at the mercy of such people. With politicians and self-styled godmen often indulging in violence towards women, and that too sometimes with impunity, it is small wonder that the weak-willed among the populace are tempted to follow their example.
Iii) Insular Traditions & Mindsets
Hand in hand with the feudal nature of society go certain insular traditions and mindsets that impede social progress and women’s liberation. For instance, behind the system of dowry and the high incidence of dowry deaths is the lack of gender equality in our society, the traditional beliefs that marriage is the ultimate aim of a girl’s life and that, after marriage, the husband’s or in-laws’ home is the girl’s real home. The attitude of the girls’ parents is much to blame inasmuch as they do not hesitate to make the giving of dowry a means of getting a highly placed groom, and even flaunt their wealth in expensive marriage ceremonies, which have become somewhat of a status symbol. The caste system and religious fundamentalism also leave women susceptible to acts of violence and harassment.
Similarly, behind the evil of sex selective abortions lie certain deeply entrenched attitudes and features of Indian society. The ‘son mania’ that gives rise to such abortions has its origin in the fact that Indian society is patrilineal, patriarchal and patrimonial. Sons carry on the family name. They are also charged with the task of supporting their parents in old age. Parents live as extended families with their sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Daughters, on the other hand, become part of their husband’s family after marriage and the general presumption in society is that they will not render any further help to their birth parents. Indian sayings such as “Bringing up a girl is like watering a neighbour’s plant” exemplify the feeling of wasted expenditure in raising a daughter. Indian men are also responsible for the funeral rites of the parents and are the only ones entitled to light the funeral pyre. Some feel they will be able to achieve ‘moksha’ through their sons. Thus the importance of having sons continues even beyond this life in Indian culture. Further, the dowry system leads to girls being looked upon as financial liabilities by parents. In this social and cultural milieu, the practice of sex selective abortions finds a fertile soil for growth.
In his article “In some Measure we are all to Blame for those Rapes”, (Hindustan Times, October 18, 2015), noted journalist Karan Thapar points out how a society like ours where mothers “bring up their darling sons as if they are little gods, whilst treating their daughters as a curse” creates and encourages rapists. Aunts, grandmothers, fathers and sisters are equally to blame for this state of affairs. He further opines that a culture such as ours accepts and condones sexual violence among men.Indifference of Police
iv) Whereas there is no dearth of laws aimed at protecting women against violence, their implementation is often lackadaisical. This mostly arises from the indifferent or hostile attitude of the police, who may sometimes refuse to register the victim’s complaint or even go to the extent of harassing her still further. The apathetic attitude of the people themselves, especially in matters like dowry-related evils or sex selective abortions, is also to blame.
v) Complicated Court Procedures
Lengthy and complicated court procedures in India also deter women from seeking justice. An example of such long-drawn legal battles faced by the victims of sexual violence is provided by the Vithura gangrape case. The victim was a minor when, in 1995, she was lured by someone with the offer of a job and was instead sold off into the flesh trade. She was allegedly raped many times by a group of men in various locations until she was rescued. While the accused continued to file appeals in higher courts, justice eludes the victim even after 18 years. To add insult to injury, the legal procedures require her to go through the agony of testifying in 15 different cases. (First Post, August 20, 2013).
Commenting on this state of affairs, Lavanya Sankaran says: “Take someone to court in India, and the case is sure to get mired for years, even decades, in an overcrowded, weighted-down court system that seemingly exists only to prove over and over the axiom that justice delayed is justice denied”. (Article published on The Guardian website, 3 April, 2013).
The abysmally low rate of conviction in rape cases is another factor that tends to promote such crimes. On August 26, 2013, while hearing a petition in a gangrape case, a bench of the Supreme Court observed: “What is wrong with the system? Over 90% cases end in acquittal. What is the reason behind the spurt in such cases? Have our social values changed or is the police investigation flawed?” Here it may be suggested that DNA testing of traces of semen found on the rape victim’s body during medical examination can help in identification of culprits and thereby in simplifying the trial.
vi) Juvenile Laws
While on the question of legal delays and flaws in the legal system, it may be mentioned that the law in respect of juveniles, in force till a few days back, made a mockery of the Government’s efforts at tightening the noose on sex offenders. We may make the law very harsh in respect of adult offenders, but if a juvenile is able to get away with rape and murder by spending a maximum of three years in a juvenile home, the law is unlikely to act as a deterrent. Some of the worst incidents of rape and murder of women are being committed by juveniles, some of whom are only a few months younger than the specified upper age of eighteen years. It may be recalled that the most brutal of all the offenders in the Delhi gang rape of December 2012 was a juvenile only a few months short of 18 years. Many of the crimes by juveniles are not committed in the heat of the moment but involve a high degree of clever planning, which negates the very idea that they are ‘children’ not capable of understanding the nature of their act. Take, for instance, the news report appearing in the Hindustan Times dated November 27, 2013: “Gangrape victim accuses minors of running sex racket. Meerut. A class 9 student has alleged that she was drugged and gang-raped by five minors over four months ago. The victim also alleged that more girls had fallen into the trap of this group, comprising school students, which operated a racket wherein they lured girls, drugged and then raped them”. The very next day (November 28, 2015) comes another Hindustan Times report that, in Mumbai, four minors have been detained on a charge of gangraping a 15-year old girl and circulating a video of the rape on Whats App. The crime came to light after the victim’s aunt stumbled upon a clip of the incident on her phone. A macabre incident of rape and murder by a minor and one of his friends, by climbing into the girl's first floor apartment, and subsequent rape of the corpse by both of them, was reported in the Hondustan Times of December 1, 2015. It is quite clear that perpetrators of such crimes have been only misusing the sympathy shown by the law towards minors. There are also instances of offenders claiming the benefit of juvelinity with the help of fake documents. Thankfully, the revamped Juvenile Justice Act, which has come into force from January 15, 2015, provides a mechanism to treat juveniles in the 16-18 age-group on par with adult criminals for crimes like murder and rape. This, however, will be contingent on a assessment of the mental and physical capacity of the accused by the Juvenile Justice Board. Moreover, in respect of offences committed prior to January 15, the provisions of the old law are likely to apply. It may therefore take time before the effects of the new law become apparent.
Where does the Solution Lie?
Lavanya Sankaran, in her article mentioned above, suggests that the real solution to the problem of violence against women in India lies not in legislation but in bringing about change through social pressure. “This is the force that must be harnessed for true change. Mindsets are impossible to legislate for or against—but they can be altered”. Likewise, Karan Thapar, in his aforesaid article, brings out the need for attitudinal change, emphasizing that “no amount of police and no application of severe laws” can by themselves stop rapes. He feels that our society itself accepts and condones sexual violence towards women, and unless such attitudes are given up, there is little hope for change.
Rita Patel, MD, in her paper titled ‘The Practice of Sex Selective Abortion in India: May You be the Mother of a Hundred Sons’ opines that “the most important tool for change is improving the status of women through education”. She specially emphasizes the need for “education at primary school level focused on women’s rights and building girls’ self-esteem”. She further points out: “As testimony to the importance of education, states such as Kerala with the highest female literacy rate in India do not practice sex selective abortion”.
Apart from this, as mentioned above, laws already framed for the safety of women and punishment of offenders have to be enforced and implemented with greater promptness and sincerity. For this purpose, the police force needs to be suitably re-structured, trained and sensitized. Court procedures need to be simplified and streamlined so as to bring justice within easy reach of the victimised women. Further amendments to existing laws may still be required from time to time, as has recently been done in regard to the Juvenile Justice Act.
In essence, the war against sexual violence has to continue on the three fronts of legislation aimed at prevention and justice, fair and speedy implementation of laws, and attitudinal changes. As emphasized by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in the context of the Delhi gangrape, “Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated. Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected”.