The acquittal by a court of five local cops booked on charges of rape after the victim did an about turn once again brings to the fore how hostile witnesses often take the prosecution as well as law enforcing agencies for a ride, leading to a dip in conviction rates. Legal luminaries blame social stigma, socioeconomic status of the victims along with other societal pressures for the phenomenon, with a few even arguing the laws on rape are being misused.
The UT police’s average conviction rate in rape cases this year is as low as 25% with several sensational rape trials having ended in acquittal of the suspects. Over 70% of rape cases decided by the courts this year have resulted in acquittals.
Reasons for hostile witnesses
“A dangerous trend is emerging where highly ambitious females in order to fulfil their aspirations are misusing the law. However, having said that, I don’t mean to suggest all cases are false. But there is a growing tendency among educated middle class females having high aspirations who are using the law to suit their goals,” opined Jagdish Mehta, a sociologist. “Social stigma and pressure from relatives is what makes the victims backtrack on allegations. But acquittal in cases doesn’t every time imply it was a false case. Most of the time the witnesses or the victims turn hostile owing to ‘undue considerations’ or the pressure exerted by the suspects,” said Inderjeet Bassi, a lawyer.
“In most rape cases it later emerges the sex was consensual. Also, it has been seen that in some cases women misuse the law and blackmail the suspects after the latter fall into their trap. This is a very dangerous trend, which adversely affects genuine rape cases. Stringent action should be taken against such women who misuse the law,” added Rabindra Pandit. “The number of rape cases falling flat due to hostile witnesses is steadily rising. If action is taken against such witnesses it would definitely instill fear in the minds of others. The law needs to have provisions of punishing the suspect if witnesses turn hostile under his pressure. At the same time the police should also be penalized if it is proved the witnesses produced were fake or tutored,” maintained Rajeev Duggal, an advocate.
On July 27 a local court acquitted former Panchkula district health officer Dr Lalit Vermani who was facing charges of rape after the victim turned hostile and denied having being raped.
On March 31 a local court acquitted former UT home secretary NK Jain in the infamous “rape-on-wheels” case after the victim did a U-turn.
In November 2013 a local court acquitted a Sangrur resident who was accused of raping an upcoming model after she turned hostile.
In 2013 a local court acquitted a Yamunanagar-based doctor, Vageesh Gutiyan, after the victim, who was a medical student, backtracked.
Perjury proceedings an exception
March 2013: A local court sentenced a 20-year-old man to five-years’ rigorous imprisonment for attempting to rape a minor girl in Khuda Alisher village in September 2012. Both the victim and her mother later resiled following which the court recommended perjury proceedings.
May 2013: A local court initiated perjury proceedings against a 15-year-old girl after she retracted from her statement and the suspect was acquitted of charges of kidnapping a girl to compel her to marry him and wrongful confinement.
December 2013: A local court initiated perjury proceedings against a 32-year-old Nabha resident for filing a false complaint of gangrape and furnishing false evidence, while acquitting the former president of the NRI Sabha, SAS Nagar, Amarjeet Singh Virk, his wife Surinder Kaur and son Gurjit Singh, who were earlier booked on charges of rape, wrongful confinement and criminal intimidation.