Wheels of justice turn slowly even 7 years after 2012 gangrape case
Seven years after the December 16 gang rape incident, Delhi is still grappling with a shortage of investigators for such cases. As per rules amended after the incident, only women sub-inspectors and inspectors can be an IO in a rape case.Updated: Dec 16, 2019 09:53 IST
Inspector Pratibha Sharma was the investigating officer (IO) in 10 cases of crimes against women on the day the December 16 gang rape case was assigned to her. In less than a month, she found herself as the IO in over 30 such crimes.
“Suddenly, rapes and molestations in neighbouring police stations began to be reported at our Vasant Vihar police station, because of a belief among victims that they would get justice only if they visited this particular police station,” Sharma said.
At CR Park police station, sub-inspector Romi Kanojia is the IO in 20 cases of crimes against women. Sub-inspector Chanchal Tamar in Kalindi Kunj police station is currently handling 15 such crimes, while sub-inspector Priyanka Gupta of Sarita Vihar is probing a dozen cases. Each of these three police stations has just one investigating officer each for these crimes.
Seven years after the December 16 gang rape incident, the national capital is still grappling with a shortage of investigators for such cases. As per rules amended after the incident, only women sub-inspectors and inspectors can be an IO in a rape case.
Several people familiar with the matter said that while reporting of crimes against women has risen fourfold since, the increase of the number of women IOs has not kept pace, leading to IOs being burdened with a heavy workload that leads to weak investigation and mounting backlog.
The current strength of the Delhi Police is around 80,000. Of these 9,793 are women, of which only 928 sub-inspectors and 103 inspector.
An IO’s Day
A typical workday in the life of woman officer such as Sarita Vihar’s SI Gupta begins at 8 am when she leaves her home for court. “Be it for recording the statement of a rape survivor, presenting an accused in court, attending a hearing or a bail plea, I have to visit the court anywhere between 20 and 25 times a month,” said Gupta. These visits lasts anywhere between three and five hours.
If a rape is reported in that period, Gupta has two choices. “I have to seek permission from the court to rush back. If that is not possible, men and women officers in the police station are tasked with completing the basic formalities like medical tests and helping the survivor draft her complaint. Eventually, it is only me who is authorised to initiate a proper probe,” said Gupta.
At such times, the women officers wish for less involvement of their male colleagues. “The victims may get discouraged and frightened if their first interaction is with policemen. That can hamper the victim’s participation in the case,” said SI Manjusha, who served as the IO in rape cases registered in Jahangirpuri police station.
First three days key
Although not set in stone, the first three days are the most important when a rape is reported. “It begins with understanding the crime, recording the survivor’s statement, interacting with her family and registering an FIR, among others,” said SI Kanojia.
The medical examination of the survivor takes up to four hours, often forcing the IOs to send women constables for the task. Merely coordinating with NGOs and getting them to meet the survivors for counselling takes up quite some effort and time, said inspector Sharma.
By the second day, the survivor has to be produced before a magistrate for recording her statement, and then there will be a visit to the crime spot and lifting of evidence or arresting the suspect. The third day usually involves paperwork — preparing reports and sending evidence for forensic analysis.
Investigators said that they are helped by being provided vehicles for transportation and helping hands in the form of a couple of constables, but that is hardly enough.
“For example, if I need to probe three places, and gather CCTV footage or get call records to prove stalking, it becomes nearly impossible to do all that in 24 hours,” said SI Gupta, the lone woman IO at Sarita Vihar police station.
Time is paramount since the law requires the charge sheet to be filed within 20 days of the registration of the FIR in a rape case.
“For a perfect investigation, there is the need for at least one more IO in my police station, if not more,” said SI Tamar, a sentiment echoed by all other investigators.
SI Gupta said that while she tries her best to not leave any lacunae, for a “good” probe, she would ideally want a 15-day period during which she can focus on a single rape case and not be bothered by court visits, and have about half-a-dozen support staff.
Investigators admitted that for the lack of time, they leave a lot for later.
According to Vikram Singh, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh, “Since they are required to file charge sheets in such short periods of time, they do not put in the necessary effort and become a laughing stock in court,” said Singh.
Investigators said that their interactions with public prosecutors are limited to an hour or two. “They are busy in court through the day. When we get a chance to interact, they point out the shortcomings in our probe. Initially, it was difficult during such short interactions, but with experience I am able to understand things quickly now,” said SI Gupta.
Advocate Rahul Mehra, standing counsel (criminal) of the Delhi government, said that the police are trampled with work. “Many times, the IO would arrive for the court hearing without any preparation. When the court questions them, she wouldn’t be able to answer, leading to delay and adjournment,” Mehra said.
Advocate Meera Bhatia, an amicus in the case which the Delhi High Court had initiated just after the December 16 gang rape, said, “Many times, the IOs are not ready with the necessary papers. Other times, IOs do not come to the court.”
“It is, in any case, not feasible for these officers to investigate only rape cases. We are also posted in administrative duties, traffic unit, and in units that deal with crimes against women where there are multiple cases of domestic violence or dowry that come up,” said a woman IO.
On Saturday afternoon, the RK Puram police station received a report about the rape of an 8-year-old girl. The police station had a problem — the only woman sub-inspector was on leave. The police had to ask a woman officer from the nearby South Campus police station to investigate the case.