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The problem with Rape legislation

The recent news of the Rajasthan State Assembly allowing for capital punishment for rape of a child 12 years or younger is being touted as a rare instance of proactive action from a State. While not exactly a landmark legislation, (Madhya Pradesh has passed a similar law), it is still a much needed measure given the alarming crime statistics that the National Crime Records Bureau publishes annually. For far too long the reporting of crimes such as rape have remained mere numbers, and the numbers tell a horror story. More than 38,000 cases of rape were reported in the year 2016, the conviction rate for which is a measly 25.5%.  This conviction rate has not improved despite the candle light marches, endless television debates, realms of newsprint over the Nirbhaya gangrape.

The Rajasthan legislation for the first time provides for the definition of 'Gangrape', making it punishable up to a term of 20 years or with imprisonment up to life. Equally important is the fact that repeat offenders under the new legislation can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Similar provisions also exist for causing death or causing the victim of the crime to be a in a vegetative state for 20 years. The question still needs to be asked though. Is this enough punishment to prevent rape?

With the new law, India has joined the likes of Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea as countries where capital punishment is meted out for rape in certain circumstances. But will the crime graph witness a plunge? The deterrent effect of a strong legislation does not seem to work in India, for the simple reason that the fear of the law is missing. 'Chalta hai' is the undercurrent of Indian society that allows any and everyone to charge a price for committing a crime big or small. What are otherwise crimes such as forgery, abduction, hacking, are in fact pliable trades in India, clearly reflected in the 2016 numbers published by the NCB.


Murder

Attempt to Murder

Kidnapping & Abduction

Assault on women to outrage her modesty

30,450

49,667

88,008

84,746


With a mere 138 police personnel per lac of population, among the lowest in the word, it is no surprise that the numbers tell the story. When not providing security for VVIPs and fighting naxals, the police have their hands full with writing reports and surviving in the same corrupt and broken system that was meant to provide law and order for the masses. Lack of infrastructure, overly long working hours, overbearing political masters, growing vacancies out of the sanctioned strength are all historical issues plaguing India's police force.  Not that these numbers need publicizing, experience suggests that crimes are only reported, never solved. The average Indian is likely to visit the police station at least five times in his lifetime. Any lesser than that probably means that you have the privilege of letting money solve your problem.

Unlike the army and the paramilitary forces that are tasked with guarding our borders and get a lion's share of the defense budget, there is little or no attention paid to the police budget. It took the Nirbhaya episode for the government to finally increase the police budget by 85% in the nation's capital. While the paramilitary forces derive the benefit of joint exercises with their first world counterparts, the closest the state police come to exercising is during a parade. The education levels and the training that are required to join the police force are similar to that of a back-office clerk, but the sleuthing expected from a government school 12th pass, would make Sherlock Holmes quit sooner than you can say 'Elementary'. The lack of infrastructure or incentives for a long and loyal service has led to obvious corruption within the system aided by political masters who look at the police force as a natural extension of their political powers. With 3816 registered cases against 1765 Members of Parliament, out of which 3045 cases are still pending, it is hardly a surprise then that every election results in a fresh set of postings and transfers for cops all across the country. Pending investigations get consigned to the record room. With justice being blind and the law being limp, the common man and his uncommon problems become mere statistics.        

Not that all is lost though, the quick action that police departments across the country now take thanks to social media is a welcome sign. Both citizen accountability as well as social media pressure when a crime is reported, have made both politicians and police aware of priotirizing their efforts in solving the crime as well as encouraging people to report crimes. Police- public relations which are an important part of policing are now managed through social media. No longer do you need an appointment with the Commissioner of Police behind closed doors or through a series of go-betweens. Twitter and Facebook have added accountability and reach to the higher echelons of the police system. Whether it involves instances of bribery or bravery, admonishment or accomplishment, there has never been a more direct connect between the police and the public than in the digital space. A lot of the hesitation and fear of harassment that is associated with reporting a crime is banished through the social media approach. Ensuring that senior officials in the bureaucracy are also tagged in a tweet or a FB post is also another way of ensuring responsibility, follow-up and quick resolution. While it has never been a government's priority, yet the rising number of women in the force are slowly making their presence felt. Over the last 5 years more women are joining and being encouraged to join the police force, though the numbers are still low at 6.11%. This while not a wholly simplistic solution, has had an effect of turning the police profession into a desirable career goal for women with quite a few of the women now in the top job.

The Anti-Rape law passed in 2013 which was supposed to add teeth to the Indian Penal Code has come up a cropper. The main obstacles to reporting rape is the harassment, total lack of sensitivity, gender discrimination, and a judgmental approach that the woman suffers at the hands of the system when she has to go to the local police station to report rape. The ordeal that the victim has to suffer leads her to doubt the system which in turn subsequently leads to under-reporting of crimes. While national and local outrage is fueled by over zealous and tasteless news reporting of rape, very little accountability is affixed on the minister responsible for law and order. Never has there been an occasion where the Home Minister's head has rolled due to the rising incidence of rapes. It takes a full 5 years before the next elections, before public apathy turns to action. While Delhi is much maligned by being called the rape capital of the country, at the State level it is MP, followed by UP and Maharashtra that have the highest number of reported rapes.  Which is why the new legislation carries some hope that perhaps now other States will take a cue from the likes of Rajasthan and MP, where the headlines for a change start mentioning the convicts tried under the new laws, instead of just sensationalizing rape. 

 

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