Weighing in on the side of the victim
A new bill aims to lessen the trauma for rape victims. Rape cases will be fast-tracked and a two-month deadline has been set for completion of trials.india Updated: Dec 19, 2008 21:48 IST
The process has been painfully slow, but one by one, the obstacles to a rape victim getting justice are being eliminated. The most striking provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill that was just passed in the Rajya Sabha is that the victim can now appeal against the acquittal of the accused, something that was previously the prerogative of the State. Rape cases will be fast-tracked and a two-month deadline has been set for completion of trials. Only women officers will record statements and where possible the trial will be presided over by women judges. This will do much to eliminate the prurient line of questioning that many male officers subject victims to. In the case of a child rape victim, this is all the more important to lessen the pain of the already traumatised victim.
The Bill goes as far as to allow for trial by video-conferencing, again putting an effective barrier between the victim and an insensitive legal system. These are all positive developments that will build on previous ones aimed incrementally at reducing the stigma and trauma suffered by the victim. But much more needs to be done. For example, we need severe strictures against the police who often refuse to record evidence of rape. So far, the conviction rate for rape is abysmally low owing to the cavalier manner in which the legal process deals with this crime. Often this means that the victim has to go back to a society in which those who assaulted her roam free.
Both the victim and those in charge of the legal process at all levels must be made aware of these progressive changes in the law. At the best of times, the legal machinery is intimidating. The state has to work in conjunction with local NGOs to inform women of their rights. It is only when there is a degree of certainty that they will get justice, that women will come forward and break their silence. Alongside legal provisions, there has to be counselling for the victims and their families to drive home the point that rape is not about honour and shame but a heinous crime that must be punished as such. That the victim cannot be doubly condemned.