Bringing justice to her
Not a day passes without several cases of rape being reported from our metros. The same crime takes place with regularity in rural areas but we rarely get to hear of it. Yet, the conviction rate for rape in India is abysmally low either because the victim is too traumatised to see legal proceedings through or because forensic evidence is not recorded in time. So the government’s attempts to lessen the agony of rape victims is welcome. But it must also ensure that the changes in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc) that it has suggested must be implemented in letter and spirit.
As things stand now, the law is weighted against the rape victim. She has to deal with an apathetic police machinery which is lax in recording medical evidence and she has to contend with a societal mindset which veers towards the belief that the victim must have asked for it. The stigma attached to rape is so great that many prefer to suffer in silence for the sake of their family’s honour. That women judges will preside over rape cases wherever possible is bound to be of solace to victims. The two-month deadline for completion of trials is also a shot in the arm for victims who, in the past, have been forced to relive their trauma repeatedly in the courts, often in the presence of the rapist. To allow a woman to record evidence in her home is another path-breaking proposal that the government has suggested and this is particularly useful in the case of child victims. The provision that the victim will be questioned only in the presence of her parents or a social worker will eliminate the often prurient line of inquiry that the police take in order to harass women. The right to appeal an acquittal, until now the sole prerogative of the State, has been given to the victim.
If implemented, these provisions will allow women to fight for justice and send a signal to offenders that they cannot exploit the law and get away with their crime. The state must also make an effort to generate awareness of the legal provisions available to victims. At the moment, the legal machinery is too intimidating, especially to someone who is already traumatised. This is where the state needs to work in partnership with local NGOs, especially in rural areas. It remains to be seen how well the new provisions will work. But at least the government has weighed in on the side of the victim, something it normally steers clear of.