The protests following the most inhuman crime on the fateful night of December 16 last year which snatched away the life of a young girl who had a bright career ahead of her and from whom her parents had high expectations, gave an impression that a lot would change for the betterment of women.
A year later, I have mixed feelings. Though some changes have indeed taken place, but the widely anticipated systemic changes have been missing and, unfortunately, the hope is slowly fading away.
No doubt, some key amendments have been done to update the criminal laws dealing with serious crimes against women, but the implementation of these laws still remains a major cause of worry.
Let us understand that the fear of law for those indulging in heinous crimes against women will only be there if these are strictly enforced; otherwise all efforts will be merely cosmetic.
I am not painting an entirely pessimistic picture. The way the police probed the December 16 case in a completely scientific and time-bound manner is laudable and the results are there for everyone to see. In my view, the investigation of this case should be treated as a role model to be followed in all rape cases by law enforcement agencies across the country.
This was the positive side, but other important lessons which should have been learnt still remain on paper. The society has to learn to treat rape victims with respect and they should not be subjected to any harassment.
There is an urgent need to set up one-stop centres to end the agony of victims who manage to reach a hospital after being subjected to sexual assault of any kind. It should be made mandatory for all hospitals to have such a centre with all encompassing protocol for the provision of medical, legal, and rehabilitative services for the victim - all under one roof.
A lady police officer, a lady doctor, a woman counsellor, a trained nurse, a forensic expert and a designated judicial magistrate will be required to attend to the victim and PCR vans have to be directed to take victims to the nearest hospital with such a centre to save the life and dignity of victims.
Other important issues like inclusion of gender sensitisation in the schools syllabi and awareness in the society to treat women as equals and with respect seem to remain topics of debate, but if the lawmakers are serious in addressing the issue, then certainly a lot more needs to be done, which I frankly do not see happening.
(Justice Usha Mehra, a former Delhi high court judge, headed the inquiry commission which was set up to probe the police lapses that led to the December 16 incident)