It would not be incorrect to say that the December 16, 2012, gang rape of a paramedic in New Delhi raised the bar on the discussion on sexual violence against women. But, we have a long, long way to go when it comes to rape conviction. At a recent review meeting, led by Delhi’s department of women and child development, the Delhi Police shared invaluable data on conviction rates of rape cases in the city: The rate of conviction was as low as 29.37% in 2015. This is distressing since between 2011 and 2015, the conviction rate touched a high of 49.25 in 2012. A senior police officer who attended the meeting said that one of the reasons for the data reflecting a decline in conviction rate is that a case takes four or five years on an average to come to a conclusion and that impacts the conviction rate.
At the all-India level, the conviction rate for rape cases was 26.4%, 24.2% and 27.1% in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively. According to an analysis by IndiaSpend, conviction rates in West Bengal and former Andhra Pradesh are the worst among large Indian states. Only 11.6% of rape trials in Andhra Pradesh led to conviction in 2013, a marginal increase over 11.2% the previous year. West Bengal had a conviction rate of 12.6% in 2013, an increase over the 2012 rate of 10.9. The reasons behind low conviction rate in India include: Victims retracting statements, delays in registering an FIR, faulty investigation, indifferent prosecutors, inconsistencies and contradictions in witness statements, insensitive judges and gruelling cross-examination of even minors by defence lawyers.
The rape conviction rate cannot improve in isolation. It can only do so if there is a holistic change in the system: For example, India’s over-burdened public health system simply cannot cope with such cases. The average gynaecologist has no training in conducting medical examinations and this mean victims get shortchanged. The collection, transport and storage of forensic evidence by the police must be improved because errors in this result in weak prosecutions, few convictions and lenient jail terms for convicted offenders. We need more courts, judges and prosecutors, and rape crisis intervention centres which can provide medical or psychological support for victims. Last but not the least, the system as a whole needs to be work towards ensuring that the victim is able to get back into the rhythm of normal life as soon as possible and with the least possible mental trauma.