Rape crimes in India : The changing scenario

A 23-year-old rape victim from Unnao was set ablaze when she was on her way to court to attend a hearing. She trudged for almost a kilometer struggling for help after being set on fire. The woman later died of cardiac arrest at Safdarjung Hospital. On November 27, 2019, a 27-years old veterinarian in Hyderabad was gang-raped and murdered. On January 10, 2019, an eight-year-old child was kidnapped. Over the next week, she was drugged, starved, repeatedly gang-raped and then murdered. Similar incidences of assaults on women have been reported across all sections of the society over the years. However, the past three decades have seen the most brutal cases of all time.

Indian law, under section 375 of the criminal code, terms 'rape' as penetration without consent. But looking at the severity and complexity of cases, amendments have been brought to the laws. In 1972, a 16-year-old tribal girl called Mathura was allegedly raped in a police station. Her family lodged a criminal complaint against two officers. The Supreme Court gave no respite to the victim, saying that Mathura's body bore no outward signs of rape. The judgment sparked protests across the country. It was the first case that led to public protests and reform of criminal law amendments in 1983, pertaining to rape in the Indian Penal Code.

The changes included a new category of rape for offenses committed when a victim is in the custody of the state. In such a situation, the law said a court should presume when a woman says she did not consent; is telling the truth. The amendments also ruled that rape trials should be conducted as closed proceedings and banned the publication of the identity of the victim.

In 2002, an amendment to rules governing the presentation of evidence disallowed cross-examination of rape victims that raised questions about their moral character or previous sexual experience.

The case of a 23-year-old woman (Called 'Nirbhaya' by Indian media), who raped on December 16, 2012, in Delhi, became a turning point. She was heading home with a male friend when six men lured the couple onto a bus, raped the woman and used the bar to inflict extensive internal injuries to her. She died 13 days later despite sincere attempts to save her.

Six days after the incident, on December 22, 2012, the central government appointed a judicial committee headed by J S Verma, a former Judge of Supreme Court, to suggest amendments to criminal law to sternly deal with sexual assault cases. The committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013, which indicated that failures on the part of Government and Police were root cause behind crimes against women. On February 1, 2013, the Cabinet Ministers approved for bringing an ordinance for giving effect to the changes in law as suggested by the Verma Committee Report. The ordinance was subsequently replaced by a Bill with numerous changes, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 19, 2013.

Also, Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was substituted with new sections - 370 and 370A, which deal with trafficking of a person for exploitation. The most important change that has been made is the change in the definition of rape under IPC. Although the Ordinance sought to change the word 'Rape' to sexual assault, in the Act the w

ord 'Rape' has been retained in Section 375 and was extended to include acts in addition to vaginal penetration.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 became an important landmark. It strengthened the hands of judiciary in executing justice.

The six criminals, in this case, were in Tihar Jail of Delhi since 2013. One was a juvenile at the time of the crime and was sentenced to three years in a reform house. Another one, Ram Singh - driver of the bus Nirbhaya was raped in- hanged himself in the jail in 2013.

Remaining four convicts - Mukesh Singh (32) Akshay Thakur (31) Vinay Sharma (26) and Pawan Kumar Gupta (25) fought strategically to avert punishment but were finally hanged on March 20, 2020, 5.30 am, at the Tihar Jail, Delhi.

Losing a life is certainly very painful for anyone. But the basic question of going through the pain of rape by a woman must be addressed. According to data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), rape vulnerability for girls and women is almost twice today to what it was a couple of decades ago. But, with the law and authorities taking a serious view of this menace, let us hope that no rapists prowl and lurk to pounce upon girls and women in our society.

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