Cops Have to Move From the Casual to the Urgent In Dealing with Rape
NEW DELHI: Moving one step closer to tighten the noose around predators who manage to haunt victims of their lust by twisting the law around their little finger, the topmost Court of the country provided a major relief to the most vulnerable ones-minors and mentally unstable ones.
Over-ruling and quashing an order of the Bombay High Court in a case related to 2008 where a man convicted of rape of a deaf and dumb girl had been acquitted because of non-examination of the victim, a Bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit ruled that mere non-examination of such victims during trial was no ground for acquittal of the accused if there was other corroborative evidence to substantiate the charges.
The trial court which had convicted him had meticulously relied on corroborative evidence to convict the man as the rape survivor was incapable of facing cross-examination because of her mental and physical deficiencies.
The SC Bench observed, "The evidence of the mother of the victim clearly shows that it was the respondent-accused who took away the victim. The victim and the accused were seen together on the date of commission of offence. The victim immediately after the occurrence narrated the same to her mother as to what happened as reflected in the FIR and the version of the mother. Rape has been confirmed by medical evidence. Identity of accused is not in dispute. In these circumstances, the trial court having convicted the respondent, the high court was not justified in setting aside the conviction."
Though this is one more step in the right direction as far as justice to rape victims whose numbers do not seem to come down, one wonders why there is such a hiatus between the way the law makers (Courts) and the law enforcers (Police) function in this country.
Delhi being the capital of the country shows the way to others on how to deal with heinous crimes like rape. The first Rape Crisis Intervention Centres were set up in 2000 with a collaboration between the Delhi Police, Department of Social Welfare, Delhi Commission for Women and Prayas an NGO headed by Amod Kanth. These CICs now function in all the Districts of Delhi Police but much needs to be done to change the casual attitude of the police in dealing with such crimes after 17 years.
One of the recent review meetings organised by the Delhi Police at the instance of the Lt.Governor of Delhi with NGOs and Councellors who are an essential part of the CICs was quite revealing. Under the rules of the CICs the presence of these Councellors is mandatory in Delhi as soon as a complaint of sexual assault is received at the police station. The CICs were set up to provide psychological, medical and legal support to the victim who has been completely traumatised. They are entitled to a substantial compensation, besides medical and legal aid by the government.
Their presence, one believed, had given confidence to families of mostly very poor rape victims in the capital and that was cited as one reason that the number of FIRs has been steady if not going up.
But this meeting attended by around 30 Councellors of NGOs showed that the Police is severely handicapped in resources to fulfill its responsibility in a welfare state. For instance, it does not have enough vehicles to bring these Councellors (all women) to the police station in the night especially in huge areas like Outer Delhi and East Delhi, which is mandatory.
They complained that sometimes the victims had to wait for three to four hours at the police station before they could lodge their complaints, which is a crucial lapse. Many times by the time they reach the victim has been pressurised to withdraw the complaint.
Senior most police officers who head this Cell put their hands up saying that they had only one jeep or car at the Police station and the Councellors could only be picked up on mobiles. In other words, this time lapse could not be helped.That speaks volubly about the priorities of the Delhi Police which comes out with one catchy slogan a month to show how people friendly it has become.
Yet another lapse which proves very vital in such cases in getting justice is that even while the Councellors are trying to instil courage and guts in the victim they come to know that the accused has applied for bail and is free to terrorise the victim and her family. Cases where rape victims have committed suicide after registering complaints is testimony to the fact that life even for fighters is not easy and neither are attempts being made to make things easier for them to return to sanity.
What was even more frightening was the compliant by at least ten of the 30 odd Councellors that even today police stations in Delhi are refusing to register FIRs of sexual assaults by saying that the case did not fall in their jurisdiction. According to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 a police officer who refuses to lodge an FIR of sexual assault can be sent to jail. But have we seen any one case in the country where this has been implemented.
Those of us who started our journalistic careers as crime reporters heard the term jurisdiction when the Ranga Billa case of the 70s brought this to make headlines. The brother and sister Sanjay and Geeta Chopra were killed after a week by the duo after they had taken a lift from them. A Good Samaritan who gave them a chase on his scooter was turned away by the police who told him that the area where he saw the victims did not fall in their jurisdiction.
The latest SC verdict is expected to set new guidelines for the lower courts on the procedure to be adopted while handling sensitive cases where the victim is unable to depose and corroborate their ordeal before the trial judge.
But unless every stakeholder in society 'gangs up' against the perpetrators of such heinous crimes as strongly as the Judges in this crucial fight the victims will have only two options- commit suicide or marry the culprit, which is actually the same thing.