Who can forget the infamous smirk on the face of disgraced cop, former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore, convicted for molesting a teenage tennis player, four years ago, after a 19-year-long fight? Unrepentant as he was, Rathore’s smirk caused a huge furore nationwide. His outrageous grin was a sign of defiance.
The law has come a long way since then.
The gruesome Delhi gang-rape case was the tipping point that shook the nation’s psyche. With masses no longer acting as mute spectators, more women are coming forward to report cases of sexual harassment, including rape, molestation, stalking and other related crimes.
Ironically, only a few cases reach the courts and many end up in compromise owing to witnesses’ refusal to cooperate, societal pressure and lackadaisical attitude of the law-enforcing agencies. For cases that reach the courts, the conviction rate is low.
However, it remains to be seen whether public awareness campaigns and growing intolerance of sexual harassment will help improve the conviction rate, which hovers around 49% in Chandigarh and SAS Nagar.
In other cases, the prosecution fails to prove the charges, the complainant backtracks or the witnesses turn hostile.
“With new laws in place, things are changing for the better. New Acts have redefined the offences that appeared vague before. This has helped the prosecution to build watertight cases. These changes will help improve the conviction rate gradually,” says Manu Kakkar, public prosecutor, Chandigarh.
Giving reasons for the low conviction rate, advocate Rajan Malhotra, says, “Sexual harassment cases fall flat as the prosecution fails to prove the case due to the victim turning hostile or failing to appear before the court.”
“In cases of sexual harassment at workplace, the department proceedings and penalties are imposed, but the conviction by the court of law is rare,” he says. Advocate Gagan Aggarwal says in cases of sexual harassment, the onus of proving the allegations is on the complainant.
“This is one of the major drawbacks. Also, the cross-examination of the victim is done in a way that contradictions emerge, weakening the case,” he adds.
Advocate Veena Sharma, director, Human Rights Law Network, feels societal pressure is a major reason why many cases of sexual harassment go unreported and many end up in compromise. “When a victim backtracks, it does not mean it is a false case. The fact is that victims are pressured to enter into a compromise,” she argues.
Also, the quality of police investigation is not up to the mark. The criteria of determining the genuineness of the complaint, according to advocate Vikas Sagar, is not scientific. “The time lapse in the occurrence of the incident and registering the protest grants benefit of doubt to the accused. The credibility of the complainant is also doubted,” he says.
Stringent laws needed
The safety of women has been a matter of grave concern for quite a long time. However, it is only recently that whimpers have been replaced by strong voices in support of the cause. Unfortunately, the turning point was the horrific Delhi gang-rape case in the Capital, which woke the nation from deep slumber. People from different walks of life participated in candle marches to draw the government’s attention. Media, which has often been accused of sensationalising issues, showed immense maturity. What followed was swift action by the police and fast trials, giving hope to innumerable women that all is not lost.
‘Time heals all wounds’ but some are best left open to remind us of the past. Television debates are over, candles are no longer burning and the government is yet again maintaining silence. It would be unfair to say that nothing has changed and women feel as unsafe as ever in this country. However, till the time they have to think twice before stepping out of their homes, there is work to be done.A society can only reform when people, who are a part of it, change. Since a young age, men are made to believe that they are the superior race and can get away with anything. Parents fail to realise that their flawed upbringing can turn their children into rapists tomorrow. Mothers should teach their sons to respect women and treat them as equals.
Literacy is one of the keys to make the nation a safer and better India, which defines the spirit, hopes and aspirations of its citizens. Sadly, despite exhaustive laws, justice is not only delayed but also denied in most cases.
Whenever there is a public outcry and pressure mounts on the government, a new legislation is passed. However, the challenge is not the absence of laws but lack of effective implementation.
The government should focus on stricter enforcement of existing laws to ensure speedy justice.
Ultimately change will take place when people join hands with the authorities to build a society where women feel safe and secure.
As far as Chandigarh is concerned, it is relatively one of the safer cities in the country.
The credit goes to the Chandigarh police, local administration and residents themselves. Although incidents of sexual harassment have gone up in the past few years, Chandigarh is still better off than most cities. Women living in the ‘City Beautiful’ are truly blessed as they can step out their homes without fear in their hearts!
Most talked about Cases
4-year-old molested in crèche
The mother of a 4-year-old girl had in March 2013 accused a 25-year-old BCom student — son of the owner of a crèche in Sector 38 — of molesting her daughter. The accused was arrested, but later got acquitted as the victim and the mother turned hostile.
Girl student molested in CGC, Landran
Four youths were booked by SAS Nagar police in November 2012 for allegedly molesting a girl student during a function in the college. The complaint was lodged by the college management and three youths were arrested. The college management later withdrew the case stating, “We don’t want to pursue it.” The police later filed an “untraced” report before the court.
In July 2012, two persons sustained injuries after a group of boys attacked them for objecting to the eve-teasing of teenage girl students in Kurali. Later, angry residents blocked the road and forced the police to arrest all five accused. The case ended in a compromise outside the court.
Harassment of food and supplies inspector
In July 2004, a woman inspector with the food and civil supplies department accused two of her colleagues of sexual harassment. In her complaint, she accused her colleagues of placing a used condom in the drawer of her table. The inspectors were arrested and released on bail. A compromise was reached.
In most sexual harassment cases, perpetrators are known to the victims, which leads to hesitation among them to report the offence. The cops also dissuade the victim. The family needs to encourage the victim to speak out and not suffer in silence.
Dr Simmi Waraich, psychiatrist
Social stigma weighs on the mind of the victim, who needs to be told that it is not her fault and the perpetrator is wrong, and needs to be punished. There is a need to create awareness on the crime and quantum of punishment.
Sachin Kaushik, psychiatrist
Girls are always asked to keep quiet and they are, therefore, reluctant to talk about their harassment. I think we need to change mindset and take steps to stop sexual harassment of any kind. We have to act now. There is no reason why the girls should suffer in silence.
Arti Malhotra, teacher
There is constant fear about social stigma, which is a major reason why girls keep quiet and do not come out in the open. Moreover, there are many cases where the parents do not want their girls to come speak up or talk about their sexual harassment.
Monika Sandhu, school counsellor
‘Attacked for getting complaint lodged’
Victim: Teenage girl
Date of complaint: August 16, 2012
Charge: Stalking, attempt-to-murder, assault and trespass
What happened: Three youths barged into a house in SAS Nagar and stabbed Raminder Kaur, wife of Amrik Singh, and their teenage daughter on August 16 last year. The attack followed after the mother-daughter duo lodged a sexual harassment complaint against the youths at Sector 39 police station. The police arrested two of the accused. They were identified as Maninder (24), resident of Landran, Tajinder (20), resident of Phase 9, SAS Nagar, and Harpal Singh alias Lucky, resident of Sector 35, Chandigarh.
The trio booked on charges of attempt to murder, house trespass and criminal intimidation, are students of a private institute offering diploma in computer education. Maninder had been stalking the girl following which she lodged a complaint. “He was persuading me to befriend him. He even followed me to my tuitions in Sector 41,” the girl, then a student of Class 10 in a private school, had alleged in her complaint. The girl and her mother were attacked a few hours after the police complaint.
‘Victim’s testimony got Stalker convicted’
Victim: 22-year-old woman
Date of complaint: January 9, 2013
What happened: Stalked by a youth for several weeks, an employee of a private insurance company lodged a police complaint against him. The accused was identified Soni Pawar, a student. “He had been stalking and trying to talk to me. He would pass comments daily when I would be going to work or returning home. Even after my office was shifted to Sector 17 (Chandigarh), he kept following me,” the victim told the court in her statement on January 16.
Recollecting the harassment, she said, “I did not react to this harassment until January 9, when the youth shouted at me and made obscene comments in a busy market. It was then that I decided to call the police,” she told the court. On March 13, the court convicted Pawar, slapping a fine of Rs. 1,000 on him.]
Share your story
It’s a matter often discussed in drawing rooms, but seldom does it lead to introspection. HT invites readers — male and female — to write in with their experiences, personal and witnessed, of sexual harassment. You can choose to keep your identity hidden, and try to write in not over 250 words. Keep in mind, each story will add to the collective consciousness of a society that needs cleansing. Play your part. Talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org