TARDY JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF RAPE IN INDIA

A discreet research by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi revealed that out of 24,000 child rape cases in India from January and June this year, only four per cent has been decided by courts. According to a front-paged DNA report, a whopping 11,000 child rape cases are pending investigation. These facts point to the abysmal state of litigation in heinous crimes such as child rape. Converting the research into public interest litigation, a bench headed by the CJI took suo moto notice of the facts presented in open court and appointed senior advocate, V. Giri, to assist him in taking remedial measures. Focussing on cases under trial and those under investigation, the bench asked Giri to consider the nature of directions to be issued to all states and high courts. The figure collected by the top court is based on data from 24 high courts in the country for the period between January and June this year. The courts have given the state-by-state break-up considering the fact that some high courts are common to two or more states. The exercise undertaken by the apex court could set the ball rolling for major overhaul in the justice system, paving the way for path-breaking criminal reforms in child rape cases. Towards this end, the top court issued orders for setting up additional courts, requisitioning judicial manpower, special investigation units, and video conferencing facilities. This was said by the Supreme Court bench. The bench comprised Justice Deepak Chopra and Anuriddha Bose. The court took notice of advocate Giri's suggestions. The data compiled by the Supreme Court Registry presents a gloomy picture how child rape victims have to wait for years to seek justice. These harrowing experiences of recounting the crimes under court scrutiny takes a heavy toll on the mental health of child rape victims. The survey indicated that out of the 24,212 FIRS of child rape cases registered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act 2012, about 48 per cent cases (11,081) are under investigation. Out of these, in 4871 cases, final investigation has been tabled by police in courts but trial is yet to begin. In 6449 cases, trial has begun but not concluded. Only 911 cases have been disposed off by the courts, accounting for just four per cent of the FIRs registered. The apex court told Giri that child rape cases showed an upward trend and the deterrent effect of law to punish the offenders is lacking. This fear needs to be re-imposed. This move could have been triggered by the reports appearing in national and international media. These reports show India in bad light. But facts are facts. There is no use in decrying media exposure when our own justice system, our law-and-order machinery and, most importantly our moral value systems are in a terminal decline. Moreover, the scars on the minds of child rape victims continue to live with them for years. Not only are the children scarred for life, but the gruesome experiences prevent them from developing healthy relationships with their marriage partners later in life. Three men have been jailed for life for the rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Indian-administered Kashmir. Three police officers were found guilty of destroying evidence and sentenced to five years in prison. The victim, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe, was found in a forest near Kathua city in January 2018. The case sparked widespread anger and made headlines when Hindu right-wing groups protested over the men's arrest. Eight people, including a former government official, four policemen and a minor, were charged in connection with the crime. One of them has been acquitted and the minor is set to be trailed separately. All of them had pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. The case became one among many high-profile ones that prompted India to pass a new law which introduced death penalty for anyone convicted of raping a child under 12. But it is still left to the judge's discretion to decide whether or not to hand out a death sentence. The eight-year-old girl went missing in the new year of 2018 and her battered body was discovered almost three weeks later. According to investigators, the child was confined to a local temple for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. The charge sheet alleged that she was "raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered". They added that the child was targeted because the men wished to terrorise the tribe - known as Gujjars - into leaving. After the earlier decisions taken by the Supreme Court and during later hearing in the presence of advocate Giri, the top court indicated that the litigation of child rape cases is set for an overhaul. The apex court sought district-wise data on such cases that await justice delivery. The information has to be collected by the country's high courts soon, following which the top court is expected to pass orders on this matter. A bench headed by CJI, Ranjan Gogoi was certain that if 24,212 cases of child rape were registered between January and June this year, the number of such cases since 2012 when the POSCO Act was enacted, could be huge. Citing a preliminary study, advocate Giri told the apex court bench that the country must have dedicated courts and judges to hear POSCO cases. The Act also makes it mandatory for appointment of special prosecutors owing to the sensitivity regarding the young victims. Giri stressed the need for sensitizing judges and prosecutors dealing such cases. The bench felt that POSCO courts should be situated outside regular court complexes so as to protect the privacy of the victims and provide them with a friendly environment. One such attempt is being made in Hyderabad, the judges said. The advocate said Delhi has a designated POSCO court. The bench told Giri: “Have you seen the pendency rate in Delhi? Of 729 cases, only two were disposed off this year. If this is happening in the national capital, what would be happening elsewhere?” Under POSCO, the trial must be completed in two years. It is high time that the top court issued orders for more courts and special POSCO court to handle the backlog of cases. They must also ask the public to create awareness campaigns not only to stem such rising crime rates but also to encourage the victims to register FIRS, which in some cases they are pressurized to withdraw or prevented from doing so. The Supreme Court has rightly pointed out the lack of justice in cases of child rape across the country. According to statistics, shared by the apex court, 1.5 lakh cases of child rape victims and their families are awaiting justice since 2012 from special courts constituted under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. This revelation was part of a report prepared by the Supreme Court Registry and amicus curiae senior advocate V Giri after a bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi took suo motu cognizance of the rising number of child rape cases in the country. It is a matter of grave concern that even after water-tight laws have been made by various state governments the non-disposal of the cases is staring back at the judicial system like a hydra-headed problem. The report said about 670 courts across the country deal with the 1.5 lakh POCSO offences, making it an average of 224 cases that a single judge has to decide daily. It also gave interesting insights into the causes that delay trial and investigation under the Act. The highest pendency under POCSO was recorded in Uttar Pradesh (44,376 cases) followed by Maharashtra (19,968) and Madhya Pradesh (9878) with there being a steady flow of 33,000 fresh cases getting registered across the country each year. The average annual disposal rate of cases was 24%. The remaining 76% undisposed cases caused a pile-up over the last five years by almost 15 times. Considering this, it is for anyone to see that if measures are not initiated in earnest the very purpose of the Act will be defeated as cases would get added making it an even more gargantuan task. Not only this, one glaring hole that is causing delays in deciding POCSO cases was poor judge-case ratio. Although the ideal ratio, as per the report, was 1.60, it is being achieved currently only by Chandigarh and Punjab, and to some extent Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. The delay in trial has also been attributed to the lack of forensic labs. On average, samples take six to nine months to get examined and as such labs are few in number. The report also emphasizes the need to have child-friendly courtrooms. The court directed the Centre to ensure POCSO courtrooms are designed in a manner that the victim gets a support person in a room separate from the courtroom from where only the support person gets to interact with the prosecution and judge All said and done, the need of the hour is to push the emergency button, throw down the gauntlet in order to reduce the pendency of the cases drastically and bring justice to those who matter. According to Wikipedia, rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2013 annual report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012.Out of these, 24,470 were committed by someone known to the victim (98% of the cases). A large number of rapes go unreported in India. In India, consensual sex given on the false promise of marriage constitutes rape. The willingness to report the rape has increased in recent years, after several incidents of rape received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. According to NCRB 2015 statistics, Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of rape reports among Indian states, while Jodhpur in Rajasthan has the highest per capita rate of rape reports in cities followed by Delhi, the capital city. The crime of sexual assault on a child, that is anyone below the age of eighteen, is further outlined and mandatory punishments described in The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012. All sexual acts between the members of the same sex, consensual or forced, was previously a crime under Section 377 of Indian penal code, after the 2013 Criminal Law reform, with punishment the same as that of rape.. Rape of minors Using a small sample survey, Human Rights Watch projects more than 7,200 minors – 1.6 in 100,000 minors – are raped each year in India. Among these, victims who do report the assaults are alleged to suffer mistreatment and humiliation from the police. Minor girls are trafficked into prostitution in India, thus rape of minors conflates into a lifetime of suffering. Among the countries studied by Maple croft on sex trafficking and crime against minors, India was ranked 7th worst. Estimates of unreported rapes Most rapes go unreported because the rape victims fear retaliation and humiliation, both in India and throughout the world. Indian parliamentarians have stated that the rape problem in India is being underestimated because a large number of cases are not reported, even though more victims are increasingly coming out and reporting rape and sexual assault. Few states in India have tried to estimate or survey unreported cases sexual assault. The estimates for unreported rapes in India vary widely. The National Crime Records Bureau report of 2006 says that about 71% rape crimes go unreported. Madiha Kark estimates 54% of rape crimes are unreported. A UN study of 57 countries estimates just 11% of rape and sexual assault cases worldwide are ever reported. Convictions The conviction rate for rapists has fallen at a steep rate over the past 40 years. Out of all the rape trials in India, only one out of four leads to a conviction The conviction rate for rape cases in India was 44.3 percent in 1973, 37.7 percent in 1983, 26.9 percent in 2009, 26.6 percent in 2010, 26.4 percent in 2011, 24.2% in 2012 and 27.1% in 2013. India's conviction rate is higher than developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, which recorded a conviction rate of 7% in 2011-12. The conviction rate as low as 10% in Sweden and 25% in France. People in Bangalore protested outside Bangalore Town Hall on 30 December 2012 demanding justice for the 23-year-old student who was gang-raped in Delhi on 16 December 2012. The gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a public bus, on 16 December 2012, sparked large protests across the capital Delhi. She was with a male friend who was severely beaten with an iron rod during the incident. This same rod was used to penetrate her so severely that the victim's intestines had to be surgically removed, before her death thirteen days after the attack. The following day, there was uproar in the Indian parliament over the incident. MPs in both houses had set aside their regular business to discuss the case and demanded strict punishment for those who carried out the attack. The then Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, demanded that "the rapists should be hanged". Thousands of people, mostly young, participated in a massive demonstration on 22 December in protest. Police arrested six men suspected of rape. In August 2013, a 22-year-old photojournalist, who was interning with an English-language magazine in Mumbai, was gang-raped by five persons, including a juvenile, when she had gone to the deserted Shakti Mills compound, near Mahalaxmi in South Mumbai, with a male colleague on an assignment. This caused protests throughout the country since Mumbai with its very active nightlife was previously considered a safe haven for women. The city sessions court found the accused guilty and sentenced death penalty to the three repeat offenders in the Shakti Mills gang rape case, making them the first in the country to get the death sentence stipulated under the newly enacted Section 376E of the Indian Penal Code. On 14 March 2015, a 71-year-old nun was allegedly gang-raped in Ranaghat, West Bengal, by intruders at Convent of Jesus and Mary. The six intruders were recorded on CCTV during their crime of ransacking the chapel, destroying religious items, looting cash and the gang rape. Six men were arrested and charged with the crime on 1 April 2015, and identified to be Bangladeshi Muslims. On 29 March 2016, the corpse of Delta Meghwal, a 17-year- old Dalit girl, was found in her hostel's water tank. Following the registration of the police case the hostel warden, physical education teacher and principal were arrested by Bikaner police and kept under judicial custody. The State eventually acceded to a CBI inquiry after the issue became politicised. On 17 January 2018, Asifa, an 8-year old minor girl, was raped and murdered in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir. The incident made national news when charges were filed against eight men in April 2018. The arrests of the accused led to protests from groups, one of which was attended by two ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party, both of whom have now resigned. The rape and murder, as well as the support the accused received sparked widespread outrage. Following the apes court's directive, as part of Giri's suggestion to improve awareness on the subject, the court directed the Centre to ensure that a short clip sensitising people on child abuse with helpline numbers is screened in movie halls and shown in television channels, besides at schools and public places. The problem of rape in India has to be tackled on many fronts. Parents must educate youngsters about rape crimes. Teachers and elders of the community should conduct awareness campaigns to raise the moral caliber of the youth. Finally strict punishment should be meted out, especially to repeat offenders, within a limited time frame to so that it serves as a warning to others. Unless concerted efforts are made by all--parents, teachers, media, and opinion makers—crimes against girls and women will continue to rise.