Rape of the laws

THE killing of the four accused in the rape and murder case of Hyderabad veterinary doctor is being construed by many as an exemplar of “instant justice” — a solution much talked about and propagated in Bollywood flicks.

Rape of the laws


Saurabh Malik in chandigarh

THE  killing of the four accused in the rape and murder case of Hyderabad veterinary doctor is being construed by many as an exemplar of “instant justice” — a solution much talked about and propagated in Bollywood flicks. Extra-judicial killings have since long been talked about as a deterrent punishment. The Telangana rape case has also highlighted the role of the police in handling cases of rape. According to information available in the public realm, the Hyderabad rape victim’s  sister had rushed to lodge a complaint at the nearest police station that was just about 10 minutes away from the scene of crime. But she was allegedly told by the officers on duty that the area of occurrence did not fall in their jurisdiction. Reports, though unsubstantiated, suggest the family was told that the victim may have just “eloped with a boyfriend” and also asked whether she had any “lovers or affairs”.

The nation’s conscience is rightly outraged raising questions about the efficacy of criminal laws and the lackadaisical attitude of the police. For every inaction on part of an errant cop to deal with the post-rape situation or to even prevent it — whether it is intentional, stemming out of negligence or even indifference — boisterous demand for punishment is almost always there in the public province. 

However, it must be understood that even if stern disciplinary or criminal action is initiated against delinquent police officials by the authorities concerned under extreme public pressure or judicial intervention, it fails to act as a disincentive for other cops, an actuality that is no more in the domain of debate.

Deterrent action must

The apex court in the case of ‘State of Punjab versus Gurmit Singh and others’ asserted the courts should shoulder great responsibility while trying an accused on the charges of rape. The courts must deal with such cases with utmost sensitivity and examine any case without getting swayed by minor contradictions or insignificant discrepancies in the statement of the prosecutrix.

Equally important is to fix responsibility and proceed against the cops who ravish rape laws. The Nirbhaya incident had laid bare the fractures in effective implementation of the rape laws in the country by the enforcement agencies.

Provisions for penalising apathetic approach of the police in taking cognisance of offences against women were introduced in the existing laws on the basis of the J.S Verma committee report. But reforms carried out on papers failed to translate into reality. The National Human Rights Commission recently took note of cases where the incidents occurred due to gross negligence by the administration and the law-enforcing agencies. 

The Supreme Court in Gurmit Singh’s case observed crime against women, in general, and rape, in particular, was on the increase. While we were celebrating women’s rights in all spheres, we showed little or no concern for their honour and it was a reflection on the society’s attitude of indifference towards the violation of human dignity of the sex crime victims. In Bodhisattwa Gautam’s case, the Supreme Court observed women also have the right to life and liberty; they also have the right to be respected and treated as equal citizens. Their honour and dignity cannot be touched or violated. They also have the right to lead an honourable and peaceful life.

Violation of human dignity

Rapists are all around, and not always lurking in the shadows — the stranger walking right behind on a secluded street, the fellow passenger in a bus sitting smugly, the innocent-looking boy in the other class always willing to help or the friendly neighbour who is not so gracious after all.

While telltale signs are not always evident and a chance encounter providing opportunity to the rapist can seldom be avoided, identification of vulnerable areas, enhanced vigil, speedy response to distress calls and sensitisation of a not-so-sensitive police force — all these can go a long way in preventing the incidents. 

Any deed contrary to these and other measures fundamental to women’s safety need to be viewed with utmost gravity, inviting action against anyone who deviates from it, cops included.   

Needed implementation, not amendment

The powers that be need to remember that the old and the revised regulations more or less deal with post-offence scenario. Carrying out further amendments in the existing laws to bring about harsher punishments may work well for traffic offences, but its effectiveness continues to be in the sphere of conjecturers when it comes to a rapist because of his frame of mind.

The Delhi High Court, in a judgment delivered in May 1996, pointed out that rape was a particular crime, different from assault. “People who commit rape commit it for different reasons than people who commit assault”, the Bench asserted.

Otherwise also, a law, any law, is as good as its implementation. It will bring about an order in the area of its operation only when it is scrupulously enforced; and the new rape laws do not fall in the ambit of exception.

It is always feasible for the lawmakers to draw up legislations, and order enforcement through a democratic process. But a thin line divides an effective law and an unproductive law, and the implementation part of it makes all the difference.  A good law has the capacity of transforming itself into ineffective, exploitative, and even draconian, if not enforced appropriately.

The fact that there is no dearth of laws and rulings on rape and its victims is well recognised. To say rape laws have gaps enough for the accused to escape will not be of much use. Described as the most celebrated English judge of the 20th century, Lord Denning said it would be idle to expect every statutory provision to be “drafted with divine prescience and prefect clarity”.

The problem doesn’t lie with the laws, but elsewhere. It lies with those entrusted with the task of implementing the laws, or better still in creating a situation where the laws need not come into operation. According to the NHRC, the frequency of rapes indicate that making stringent laws and funds for the victims alone cannot change the scenario unless the police officers are specially trained and their attitude towards women’s issues is non-judgmental. Obligatory is to shun — to use the words of Wordsworth — “voluptuous unconcern” of the ground realities for protecting the integrity of women.

Reforms in rape laws

  • Nirbhaya’s rape and murder case in Delhi in December 2012 gave birth to a number of reforms in the rape laws of the country. Amendments were carried out in the criminal law about six years back, including giving the definition of rape a broader meaning, increasing the punishment for rape and introducing provisions for penalising the lackadaisical attitude of police in taking cognisance of offences against women. Justice Verma committee also recommended speedy trial.

  • The govt recently sanctioned 1,023 fast track courts for speedy justice in cases of crimes against women. Funds under the plan would be used to strengthen the presently dismal state of rape investigation infrastructure in india including inadequate forensics labs, courts, judges and prosecutors. 

  • In April 2013, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had set a six-month deadline to decide all rape cases pending in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh for more than a year.

Nirbhaya fund utilisation

States and UTs used less than 20 per cent of Rs 1,813 cr the Centre disbursed under the fund from 2015 to 2018; 21 states have posted zero utilisation under the Central Victim Compensation Fund provided to support rape, acid attack and other women victims of violence. Rs 200 crore was disbursed under this fund.


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