A constantly looming threat
Going by media reports, rape is one of the most prevalent crimes in India. Shocking details of rape keep emerging from various parts of the country at a disturbingly high frequency. From minors of five years to school children and from housewife to random women on the streets, none is safe. This fact has borne out in the statement of the Minister of State for Internal Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who on Wednesday said in Parliament that the number of rape cases from 2104 to 2016 stood at 1,10,333. He said in the Rajya Sabha that 38,947 cases of rape were registered in 2016, 34,651 cases in 2015 and 36,735 cases in 2014. Clearly, the statistics show that there is no decline in the number of reported rape cases over the years and on an average, more than 100 women file rape charges every day. These figures are in addition to those registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Nearly 35,000 cases of rape and other sexual crimes against minors are reported under this Act every year. In many cases, the victims are also inflicted grievous injuries and brutalities, leading to their death. In other instances, such incidents are part of a larger criminal racket in which women are trapped and exploited. Despite the enactment of new and more stringent laws and the setting up of the fast-track court to hear such crimes in a time-bound manner, the number of sexual offences against women has not shown any sign of decline.
Slow judicial process and low conviction rate are the main reasons for the spike in sexual crimes against women as the perpetrators of the crime do not feel enough intimidated by the punishment that their acts might bring to them. In fact, the complicated process of the police investigation and the trial in the court are more loaded against the victim than the accused. While there is no doubt that those committing such crimes have something seriously wrong with their mental health, it is also true that the laws and the criminal justice system in the country are flawed to some extent as they fail to instill sufficient fear in the minds of the people about the consequences of such crimes. The length of time that courts take to decide a case is certainly a big let-down on the part of the judicial system as they tend to linger the pain of the victims.
In many countries, the judicial system provides for an instant and extremely harsh punishment to rape convicts. For example, in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, UAE, and Egypt, where the criminal justice system is based on the Islamic law and those convicted of rape get a death penalty, either by public beheading, hanging, or a bullet shot in the head of the convict. In North Korea and China too, the punishment for rape is the death penalty. In all these countries, the court proceedings are very quick and the victims get justice almost instantly. In other countries like France, USA, Greece, Russia, Israel, Netherlands, though the punishment is not as harsh as in the Islamic nations, the courts are fast and the judgement comes without any delay. The rape convicts are sentenced to imprisonment, whose quantum is decided by the severity and type of crime.
Till 2013, the maximum punishment for a rape convict in India was imprisonment for seven years. After the Nirbhaya incident in which a 24-year-old paramedic student was gang-raped and brutalised in a moving bus by a group of up to seven men, the Parliament enacted a more stringent anti-rape bill, which provided for life imprisonment and even death for those convicted of rape. The new law provides for stringent punishment even for other related crimes like sexual harassment, molestation, acid attacks, stalking, and voyeurism. Those found guilty of gang-rape will be punished by minimum 20 years of rigorous imprisonment or life imprisonment. In the Nirbhaya rape case, four of the accused were awarded the death penalty. It took almost two-and-half years for the judiciary to give the verdict. Though the laws and punishment for rape convicts have changed and become more stringent, courts still take a very long time to deliver judgement. The setting up of fast-track courts for all rape cases may help the situation as delayed justice often means the denial of it. The government should take initiative in this direction. It is only when the courts give quick and harsh punishment to those accused and found guilty of rape that the rising trend of sexual violence against women can be curbed.