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A nightmare on the streets

Only the certainty and severity of penalty can deter cases of rape like the recent one in Delhi.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2012 22:42 IST

It was an attack so vicious that even the doctors, usually inured to such cases, were shocked to their core. A 23-year-old girl returning home around 9 pm with her friend, not a particularly late hour in a metro like Delhi, was gangraped and beaten so violently that a usually apathetic city is reeling in horror. The fact that this happened in a moving bus, whi-ch passed police vans, shows how little the culprits feared being caught.

The victim and her friend were thrown out of the bus in an injured state. Emotions ran high in Parliament as MPs registered their shock at what had happened. The BJP sought death sentence for rapists, many on Twitter have asked for public punishment, none of this feasible in our system as it stands now. But such reactions are the result of the fact that such cases often fall by the wayside thanks to poor forensics, shoddy investigation and interminable delays in the judicial process.

Statistics and incidents show that cases of sexual brutality are increasing across the country, and not only in Delhi. If it is a Delhi girl today, yesterday it was a woman in Kolkata and then a young entrepreneur in Assam; not to forget the numerous cases of fathers raping daughters in Kerala, a 100% literate state. In 1973, the National Crime Records Bureau first published data on rape: 2,919 rape cases were registered. By 2010, the figure touched 20,262. Yet how many prosecutions have ended in conviction? Not many. Coming to Delhi, 572 rape cases were reported last year and in 2012, there have been 635 rapes; in both cases, the actual number is believed to be higher. If this is the situation in an urban centre, where reporting of such cases is higher, what could be the number in rural areas that goes unreported? There are many reasons that are cited for what makes Delhi (or any urban centre in India for that matter) unsafe for women: dark or poorly lit streets, insufficient presence and unresponsive-aggressive attitudes of police and civic authorities and a macho culture among other things. But the basic reason whichever way you look it is this: a lack of respect for women and their rights.

The Sunday rape case must be taken as a tipping point when the government has to decide once and for all on the kind of punishment that should be handed out to rapists and how to ensure quick justice for the victims. In the Rajya Sabha, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that this latest case will be tried on a fast-track basis and action will be taken if lapses are found on the part of the police. This is a welcome step. But such action must extend beyond this particular case. All rape cases, henceforth, must be tried in fast-track courts and police officers, if found guilty, should be dealt with severely. Taking the easy way out and transferring them is hardly a deterrent. It is not just a case of having the right laws in place, it is the certainty and severity of punishment that will ultimate deter such criminals.