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HindustanTimes Mon,21 Apr 2014
Let’s make our anger count and demand lasting reforms
Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
December 24, 2012
First Published: 00:33 IST(24/12/2012)
Last Updated: 02:51 IST(24/12/2012)

Finally, Delhi is angry. This weekend, thousands of school and college students, housewives, young professionals, middle-aged office-goers turned up at India Gate and demanded action in the gangrape of a 23-year-old who is battling for life.

Let us hope this outpour yields lasting solutions and does not become just another weekend protest, extracting knee-jerk reactions from the authorities.

Between 1990 and 2010, the number of rapes in Delhi increased by 330%, from 153 to 507. Last year, the count was 572. This year, it has already crossed the 600-mark.

Successive police chiefs have brushed aside these numbers as "opportunistic crime committed in private space" because in 98.5% of rapes, the accused are known to the victims.

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While the 23-year-old victim was brazenly attacked by strangers, the husband of the owner of a playschool who raped a three-year-old student last week knew his victim.

Perhaps so did Bhura, the ward boy who raped a nurse at east Delhi's Shanti Mukund hospital in 2003, gouging out her right eye when she resisted his attempts.

Physical vigil is not the only deterrent to rape. What restrains a potential rapist is the fear of getting caught, prosecuted and punished.

The enforcement agency has little excuse for failing to successfully prosecute more than 30% of the accused. Surely, the numbers would have fallen if the rapists did not enjoy a fair chance to get away with rape.

Following the government's promise to put last Sunday's rape case on fast track, the high court has now stated that all 963 pending rape cases would be heard daily.

That is a big relief because even the most gruesome cases such as the abduction and rape of the 20-year-old Delhi University student by four men in a moving car in Dhaula Kuan in 2004 took four years to reach a logical end.

But fast-track courts may not be enough if investigation and prosecution do not improve. We need to strengthen laws.

But we also need to separate the routine law and order duties from criminal investigations and have special units to deal with rape cases.

Delhi has a crime branch and special teams in every district to investigate complicated heinous crimes, mostly for murders but never rapes.

It is always the thana staff who collect (read botch up) forensic evidence, and make the victim suffer utmost humiliation.

We also have counselling cells in every district but they can be of help only if cops decide to register a case in the first place.

An average Delhi cop is still insensitive to crimes against women. They need psychological orientation and skill training. Instead of hiding behind excuses such as rise in population (and hence a lesser population-crime ratio), rapes in private space or accused-victim relationship, if our cops devote the energy to their job, the crime figures on their report card will appear less embarrassing.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for cops to fight over jurisdiction as it happened in the case of 2005 Mayapuri rape case when a disabled pregnant woman, gangraped in a moving car, had to shuttle between two police stations to get her case registered.

In another case in 2009, a father had to wait for 15 hours to register a case as his daughter battled for life after being beaten up and gangraped.

The Supreme Court has been insisting on "zero FIRs" in rape cases. That irrespective of any jurisdiction, a rape case be registered at any police station where the victim is able to reach. But like many other directions, this too is not implemented.

The trials are often called the "second rape". There is little to protect the victims and witnesses. There are not enough public prosecutors and not all of them are experienced and sensitive.

Not too long ago, after a series of high-profile cases such as the Jessica Lal murder led to acquittal of the accused by the lower court, the cops promised they would hire top lawyers as prosecutors. That was another promise our police commissioners did not keep.


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