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Faults in the first line of defence

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2012-12-22T111403Z_1655301374_GM1E8CM1HDB01_RTRMADP_3_INDIA-PROTESTSAJAY BANNERJEE PUBLISHED IN THE TRIBUNE

Everything that can conceivably go wrong with policing, has. There is shortage of personnel, cops are not trained to handle sensitive cases, shoddy probe renders the case weak and the human touch is missing. This defeats the purpose of justice. But there is hope from reforms.

Ensuring protection for women against sexual offences and enforcing various rules, and guidelines for women is a job mandated to the police, which is short in numbers and is woefully untrained to handle such sensitive matters. The constabulary and the thana-level police personnel — the inspectors and their juniors — are living in their cocoon of caste-ridden politics clouded by draconian mindsets. At times, they display no concern or priority for crimes against women.

Enforcement of various rules, laws and guidelines enacted for women in general and women at the workplace in particular, are followed more in the breach as almost no checks exist. Once a rape is committed, ensuring the dignity of the victim and seeking conviction of the rapists on the basis of sound investigation, is the mandate of the police.

At times, pressure from the powerful plays a role in holding back the police. A glaring example is of Bitti Mohanty, son of former DGP of Orissa. He was convicted of raping a German woman. Bitti was jailed for eight months before jumping parole in 2006. There is still no trace of him.

Leave aside the metros or big urban centres where the police functions under intense media glare and some level of accountability, a woman in India dreads approaching a police station, which is at best a caricature to describe the dictionary meaning of the word ‘hostile’. Approaching the police could also lead to a fresh round of humiliation as the 17-year-old Patiala gangrape victim discovered and committed suicide on December 26. “Instead of treating us as victims, my family was treated as accused. The policemen threatened us to strike a compromise with the accused or face consequences,” the victim’s relatives said following her death.

Uniformed policemen used to visit the girl’s house at odd hours and ask her uncomfortable questions. The Punjab Government suspended them but it is how the police treats rape victims.

Mirror to bad investigations

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says in 2011, 24,206 rapes were reported and only 26.6 per cent convictions were meted out. A total of 42,968 molestations and 8,570 cases of sexual harassment were reported. These are just the reported cases. Thousands of cases of rape, molestation and sexual abuse at workplace go unreported due to family pressure or sheer shame of approaching the police. In several hundreds of cases, the police does not lodge an FIR.

Since the data for 2012 is being compiled, 2011 is the closest reference point. At the end of 2011, a total of 1,04,997 rapists were facing trial across the country. During the entire year, only 5,724 persons were convicted and 21,489 got a reprieve from court. In the same year, 2,28,650 women registered cases of sexual offences. A chargesheet seeking prosecution was filed only in 1,78,849 cases and a conviction was obtained in 30,266 cases, making the conviction rate stand at 14 per cent.

The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) states investigation of any case has to be completed in three months, which rarely happens. The Justice VS Malimath Committee on criminal justice system has suggested the investigation and law and order wings of the police need to be separated as the Station House Officer hardly has time to probe cases.

The police is woefully short of numbers, equipment and vehicles. As per the NCRB, in 2011, the countrywide ratio of police was 137 for every lakh of population. The worst states being Uttar Pradesh with 94 policemen per lakh, Bihar with 65 per lakh and West Bengal 92 per lakh. The density of police personnel calculated for every 100 sq km is even more abysmal at 52.4 police personnel for every 100 sq km. Major states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are much below the national average. The police also suffers from lack of transport facilities. The country’s police forces have only 1,48,908 vehicles like Jeeps, motorcycles and lorries. This figure includes 9,196 cars used primarily by SSPs and above.

Investigations suffer due to lack of scientific data. Forensic science is a subject which is still not within the grasp of the thana-level policeman who deals with day-to-day crime. Apart from the big cities, at the district level there is no forensic team that could go to the spot to collect evidence for DNA sampling, etc.

Investigation and the criminal justice system rest on three things: the investigating agency, which is the police; the prosecution; and the judiciary. The goal of punishing the guilty remains elusive. The grind of investigations by the police can be painful for the rape victim. The police depends on other wings of the administration to complete investigation and seek a successful conviction. In cases of rape, medical evidence is critical and the doctor’s report vital. In the courts, all crimes, including sex crimes, are taken up for trial in a chronological order. Till last year, the Centre was funding fast-track courts and now there is demand for more such courts following the Delhi gangrape.

cc59a490-1162-47fd-902d-90eea0b7fbacHiResExisting laws being changed

At present, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, covers a wide spectrum of crimes. It is inadequate with three sections of law. Section 375 defines the offence of rape, Section 354 the crime of outraging the modesty of a woman and Section 509 the act of insulting the modesty of a woman. Section 376 covers punishment for rape.

On January 4 this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs invited the Chief Secretaries and DGPs of all states for their opinion on the revision of anti-rape laws. Suggestions have come to create a separate chapter in the IPC under the head “Sex Crimes”. This will factor in various aspects of rape, including those committed by juveniles. In the Delhi gangrape, the boy who claims he is a minor was the most barbaric. Police probe has revealed he raped the girl even when she fell unconscious. He was the one who used an iron rod to damage her intestines leading to her death. Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath says the minor should not be spared as “it is a very heinous crime and he should also face death penalty”.

At the conference of Chief Secretaries and DGPs, the top brass of the police and the administrative officialdom wanted the entire gamut of sex crimes to be listed and defined. Eve-teasing, molestation, attempt to rape and rape should be defined and a graded punishment be prescribed under the IPC. Circumstances of the crime should be factored in, including rapes at gunpoint, knifepoint, coercion, blackmail, caste rivalry and communal angles. There was near-unanimity that the age for being considered a juvenile be lowered from the existing 18 years to 16.

Gender sensitisation

This is needed across the board in the legislature, executive, judiciary and also the media without restricting it to the police alone. In February 2011, Noida SP Anant Dev not only revealed the name of a 17-year-old gangrape victim, but also held a press conference and blamed the girl for having “willingly” gone with the accused and consuming alcohol. The victim said she was forced to consume liquor and then raped. For that moment, Anant Dev forgot Section 228-A, IPC, which bars anyone from revealing, publishing or printing the name of the victim. It is under the same Section that the Delhi Police booked a news channel on January 4 for airing an interview with the male friend of the woman who was gangraped in Delhi.

Nothing seems to move

In November 2012, the Supreme Court set about executing a mechanism for the implementation of Vishaka guidelines of 1997, which require employers at a workplace as well as other responsible persons or institutions to observe them and ensure prevention of sexual harassment to women. After reading the affidavits filed by the states and union territories, the court stated: “The states and union territories which have not yet carried out adequate and appropriate amendments in their respective Civil Services Conduct Rules shall do so within two months”.

The final decision on amending the laws will be arrived when the Justice JS Verma Committee submits its report. The committee was set up on December 23 and given 30 days’ time. The Usha Mehra Commission has been set up to probe any lapses on part of the police in handling the gangrape case.

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