There are hardly any days when the morning newspaper doesn’t have an article about a rape that happened in some part of the country. While reporting in the media has increased drastically after the Nirbhaya case, has anything else changed?
According to the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2016, 1996 cases of rape happened in Delhi alone. When it comes to metropolitan cities, Delhi ranks the highest. Out of the 36,657 rape cases registered in India in 2016, Madhya Pradesh reported the highest at 4,882, closely followed by Uttar Pradesh at 4,816. Not all rapes are reported but even if we consider the total number of reported ones, it means that a 100 rapes happen every single day!
Out of the 36,657 rape cases in 2016, the trial of 18,552 cases was completed in various courts of India. The number of acquittals and discharges in these cases was 13,813, with convictions happening in only 4,739 cases! The conviction rate in the cases of rape in 2016 was only 26%. And this is not the story of that year alone.
With such poor conviction rates, it makes one wonder the cause of such massive acquittals. In a study conducted by the author of a 100 criminal cases in 2015 for Praja Foundation, showed that the reason for acquittal in 97% of cases was ‘insufficient evidence’.
When we expect women to speak up about rape, we should also set up a system that leads to justice and not endless waits and more humiliation. When a woman first reports a rape, she is subjected to a medical test in a government hospital. According to the reply given by the Department of Forensic Science of the Government Of India to an RTI filed by the author in 2013, asking about the process of medical examination, it was stated, ‘the medical examination is conducted in the presence of a registered medical practitioner. As per sec 164A CrPc presence of the female is not required, however as per practice presence of third person female is must if the examining doctor is male. As per POCSO Act 2012, if victim is a girl below 18 years of age the medical examination is conducted by a female doctor in presence of a parent of the child or any other person in whom the child reposes trust or confidence.’
Then comes the gruesome and controversial two-finger test. Even though there are explicit Central Government guidelines for medico-legal care in cases of sexual violence, the stigma that continues to grow in the minds of people – even doctors – that judges a victim by the elasticity of her vagina, deducting how habituated she is to sex, keeps the two-finger test alive. Various media reports highlight how rape survivors are still subjected to the degrading test.
In a study conducted by Centre for Law and Policy Research in 2015, it was found that 25% of Karnataka’s fast-track court judgments referred to how ‘habituated the victim was to sex’ as a reason for acquittal. This mindset is a very grave reason for concern.
With a few recent amendments after the Nirbhaya case, the laws have been made stricter. For instance, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 brought in death as a punishment in certain rape cases (Section 376A). Also, the definition of rape was broadened. But is changing the law enough?
Even before a rape victim undergoes a trial in court, the public tries her. Even if they do not know her, even her name for that matter, it is not common to hear statements like, ‘she should have called him her brother’, ‘she shouldn’t have stayed home alone’, ‘she should have worn better clothes’, ‘she shouldn’t have been out at that time of the night’, so on and so forth.
In a survey conducted by the author, involving 15 people in the age group of 18-26, it was found that 100% of them condemned rape, 70% thought that the rapist should be given death as a punishment if the crimes are proved and 30% wanted the rapist to undergo torture as punishment.
What the 21st century needs, is the conviction of rapists and acquittal of victims. Not the other way around.