A road map for women’s safety | Opinion
Seven years after Delhi’s horrific gangrape, the criminal justice needs urgent, systemic reformsUpdated: Dec 15, 2019 16:02 IST
Exactly seven years after the December 16 gangrape case, the court’s sentence is yet to be carried out, and the Nirbhaya funds, announced with much fanfare, for protection of women, remain unutilised by the states. The ghastly incidents of Unnao and Hyderabad have come to haunt us again, amid familiar calls for lynching rapists and enacting even tougher laws. And yet there is no concrete action plan for making India a safer place for our women.
If we are serious about women’s safety, we need to take the following steps urgently.
One, announce fast-track courts for all heinous crimes against women in all the states and union territories by the end of 2020. It will affirm our commitment to bring the guilty to justice in the quickest possible time. It will also help dispose off their pleas, appeals and petitions expeditiously.
Two, fix the weak and incompetent prosecution system to enable the fast-track courts to sift through the evidence and deliver judgment without any loss of time. The prosecutors need training and courses to update their knowledge and skills. Their performance needs to be evaluated and monitored, and only the best should handle heinous cases against women. Eminent lawyers can help by offering their services pro bono.
Three, introduce a prosecution guided investigation, as is the norm across the world. Prosecutors cannot stay aloof from investigations and only give judgments on the proposed charge sheet. It is often too late to make any changes at all. The prosecution’s guidance is necessary in collecting, collating, sifting, sequencing the evidence and seeking warrant and other legal advice. Separating the prosecution from the police has not helped. The prosecution is unaccountable, and hardly makes any impression on the judiciary. When a case fails, it is routine to criticise the police for every lapse and forget the case.
Four, equip every district with a mobile forensic team to collect evidence from the crime scene and dispatch it quickly to the lab. The crucial first day in rape cases in India is almost always lost. Prospects of obtaining quality evidence then diminish. Collecting the perpetrator’s DNA as early as possible is crucial to increase chances of identification of the person who has committed the assault.
Five, constitute a quick response team in every district, comprising a woman investigating officer to rush to the crime spot with the forensic team to take care of the investigation, including a statement from the victim. The team should monitor all heinous cases against women and report to the district police chief directly. Similarly, reviving the nearly defunct women helpline, women help desk in all police stations, and regular monitoring of all the calls/complaints received and the police’s response must be made a criterion for performance evaluation.
Six, monitor speedy disposal of such cases through constant interaction with the judiciary. The judiciary is not a holy cow that can never be questioned. Questionable release orders on bail or acquittals, and unnecessary delays in trials, have to be taken up in district monitoring meetings between the district judge and collector/superintendent of police and between the high court registrar and the state government nominee.
Seven, give wide publicity to the safety apps for women introduced by the police and mobile service providers. All public places should carry the helpline numbers and information about the safety apps. Women complain that such apps often fail to function. Vulnerable zones should be demarcated in all cities for the installation of CCTV cameras.
Eight, stern action should be taken against recalcitrant policemen who refuse to take prompt action to send a warning to the entire police force. The police officers should be adequately trained to treat sexual assault cases with dignity and dexterity. The centrally-sponsored One Stop Centres (OSC), established across the country for integrated support and assistance under one roof, should be better equipped to provide police assistance, legal aid, and medical and counselling services to sexual assault victims. The OSCs should also be well-equipped to get the mandatory medical examination of the victim conducted, and arrange video conferencing facilities to get her statement recorded by a judicial magistrate under 164 CrPC (mandatory after 2013 for certain offences). Harrowing incidents of delay in getting a medical examination conducted and video recording of statements have come to light. Victims are paraded in hospitals/courts multiple times due to the apathy of doctors/magistrates, notwithstanding the mandatory provision for concealing their identity.
Nine, the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs should take up women’s safety in a mission-mode. Members of Parliament must take up the issue of women safety and utilisation of the Nirbhaya funds in their constituencies. Political parties should expel leaders even remotely involved with the exploitation of women.
Lastly, encourage employment of women across sectors. The police must hire more women and ensure that female officers are present during reporting of rape crimes. There must be more women police stations across the country to tackle gender violence. As an emerging global power, women safety has to be on India’s top most priorities.