After the death of the December 16 gang-rape victim at a Singapore hospital, the Hindustan Times ran a front-page obituary headlined: 'She lit a flame'. The last line of the piece read: 'She died, but she lit a flame that will burn on'.
If that flame has to 'burn on' - in
other words - if India wants to give the braveheart a fitting tribute, then certain changes need to take place: the government must fast-track all rape cases and re-examine the Juvenile Justice Act.
Doing the first may not be easy given our over-burdened legal system (as of 2011, there is a backlog of 33 million cases), but then, as they say, where there is a will, there is a way. And we saw the spirit come into play earlier in the year: in a matter of few months after the gang rape, India got the Criminal Amendment Act 2013 that brought in substantial changes in laws on crimes against women.
On Tuesday, as a Delhi court pronounced the four accused guilty (one committed suicide in jail), one could not but help think of the juvenile accused, who the police say was the most brutal among the six offenders.
On August 31, a Juvenile Justice Board had convicted the youngest of the six defendants and sentenced him to three years in a detention facility for juveniles. The time already served by him in a juvenile detention centre will be counted toward his three-year sentence.
In a few years time, he will be free. Is there any system in place to keep track of people with a criminal past after they are released from reformation homes? We doubt it. So why not re-examine the law?
In many countries, juveniles who commit such serious offences are tried as adults. For example, severe offences, such as murder and gang-related acts, in 44 states of the United State are treated the same as crimes committed by adults.
Coming back to the issue of fast-tracking rape cases, the Delhi court has set a precedent. But then let us not forget that the incident happened in Delhi, right under the nose of the Union home ministry, which controls law and order system in the Capital, and from the very beginning had the benefit of having public pressure on the courts and the government.
But what about the thousands of rapes that take place in smaller towns or villages? Many find even filing an FIR a challenge. Add to this, there are other roadblocks: proper investigation of the case as well as forensic examination.
These challenges too need to be ironed out if we want to change things as they stand now.
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