A rape accused in India’s capital has an 83% chance of being freed by a court, an HT investigation has found. Shoddy probes, poor handling of forensic evidence and the lack of an effective witness protection program contribute to Delhi’s low conviction rate: a mere 17%, which is 11% lower than the national average of 28%.
HT analysed 663 judgments delivered by special courts and posted on official websites between January 2014 and March 2015. Of the 665 accused, only 114 were found guilty. Of those acquitted, 87 rape accused were cleared because the complainants testified they had eloped with them.
Why is the acquittal rate so high in a city that was the epicentre of protests after the December 16 gang rape that yielded a more stringent law? Data analysis shows systemic problems in police investigations and the process of prosecution.
After the December 16 gang rape rocked India in 2012, Delhi Police took less time in completing investigations in rape cases. The cases reached the courts within 71 days on an average, 100 days sooner than before. But HT’s data analysis shows that acquittals too were fast tracked.
Prosecutors say poor investigation is a top reason. “I have understood that judges have a target to finish cases, so the moment they get to know that the prosecutrix is going to turn hostile, that case is put on priority (for disposal),” says a lawyer, who works with an NGO that focuses on sexual abuse cases.
“Even if there is DNA evidence glaring at you, screaming at you, nobody questions why she’s (victim) changed her statement before court,” the lawyer said on condition of anonymity because of the NGO’s media policy.
Securing convictions need corroborative evidence apart from forensic tests and the victim’s testimony. In 75% of the cases, the lack of corroborative evidence proved fatal. In other cases -- reflective of the immense pressure brought upon complainants -- rape victims retracted from earlier testimonies. One judgment even noted a victim as saying she had been pressured by the police to file a case.
Fewer rape victims were put through a medical examination after the 16/12 gang rape. Data analysed by HT reveals that forensic evidence helps courts to deliver a guilty verdict. Of the 663 judgements examined, forensic evidence was mentioned in only 154 cases. Of these, 55 accused were convicted.
“Shoddy investigation is the biggest reason for the failure of justice,” says former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising.
None of the 663 judgements mentioned that the courts had sought a reinvestigation. The prosecution too can seek more material from the police but seldom do.
At the end of the ordeal, it is the victim who continues to suffer. One victim told HT about her experience with the prosecutor who handled her case.
“When I approached my public prosecutor to show him that certain aspects of my case weren’t included... he just said, ‘I have no time, we’ll find out in the court… par aapne bhi mazey kiye aur usne bhi mazey kiye so what’s the point? Koi baat nahin madam, aage badiye.’ (You had fun, he had fun, so what’s the point? Never mind madam, move on),” the victim said.
“This is the kind of mentality which is coming, so who will fight with this?”
(District courts data compiled by interns Srishti Juneja, Vidushi Gupta, Tanuj Dayal. Data checked by Avantika Mehta and Rocky Soibam Singh, calculated by Harry Stevens )