Friday, February 21, 2014

Securing Women: Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Raakhee Suryaprakash

Image: Pixabay (Hans)
This past week two landmark legal events and one fiscal event are, to many, small lights at the end of the very dark tunnel that is ensuring safety of women in India. First the fiscal: in its 2014 Union Budget the UPA administration in a bid to woo the woman vote announced a Rs. 1000 crores addition to 10-billion rupees corpus it set up in 2013 to secure women—sadly the latter lies largely unutilized a year on—every measure counts when implemented though! The first of the legal events was the filing of the charge sheet against Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal by Goan Authorities a few weeks short of 3 months after his arrest for sexually assaulting a journalist from his publication under the more stringent Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 dealing with sexual offenses against women. Next was the Indian court’s decision to hang the 3 surviving adult rapists 14 months after the horrific gang rape of the 23-year-old in a Delhi bus that shocked the national conscience and got many to the streets and changed laws. Considering the usual speed the Indian judicial machinery these legal processes were completed almost at a record-breaking pace.

This is just the beginning and there is a long way to go for a nation and society with such a blatant bias towards misogyny. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) P. Santasivam at a Chennai seminar on ‘Improving Criminal Investigations’ recommended that the statement of rape survivor’ should be enough to secure conviction, as no Indian woman will voluntarily accuse a man of rape unless it really happened. Biases aside, fast track convictions aided by the continual electronic surveillance the population is under could get perpetrators of crimes against women off the street and punished at once. Rapists and acid attackers continue to go about violating women unchecked despite the more stringent laws as evidenced by the continued prevalence of gang rapes and sexual assaults across the nation. One reason is explained by Romit Chowdhury, a graduate student in Cultural Studies from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, in the Hindu article ‘Good Laws, Bad Implementation’. He postulated that “for Indian men the demonstration of masculinity—which has always problematically rested on harassing women—has now linked itself to breaking laws that protect women.”

Another reason could be that pro-women laws need to be backed up by proper implementation, timely judgements, and immediate incarceration and sentencing of offenders so that acts against women become prohibitive. This will not happen until law enforcement agencies actually get behind enforcing the pro-women laws a 100%. At a time when police personnel in many reported cases hamper the registering of FIR in the case of a sexual attack, keeping in mind the the already low numbers who actually come forward to report such violations, 100% implementation and prompt due process is a bit of castle in the air. It won’t happen till every resistant recruit is brainwashed to disregard misogynistic, paternalistic, or chauvinistic conditioning and made to automatically register cases in any circumstance. A former professional from the gender sensitivity training field had a bleak outlook to offer on training of judicial officials. She recalled strongly protesting the judges and lawyers abhorrent opinion that "Women will have fun, take pleasure, and then turn around and say it is rape." It is such attitudes that must be wiped out by training future generations in the right way from the get go continuously in schools and colleges. Perhaps the CJI’s opinion is an indicator of changed attitudes in recent times.

The Guardian’s report “Women’s Rights – Country by Country” reveals India relatively positive position on laws securing women’s rights but in the same Hindu article mentioned before one is presented with incontrovertible evidence of societal backlash against progressive laws, e.g., the progressively anti-women diktats of khaps gaining prominence in India’s north and east. The need to fast track punishing offenders and training future generations to be gender sensitive is something that must be addressed ASAP!

(1) “Nirbhaya Fund gets Rs. 1,000 cr. more”:
(3) Death to Delhi rapists!!!
(4) Remarks of the CJI P. Santasivam @ seminar on IMPROVING CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS, Feb 8, 2014, Saturday, Chennai
(5) “Good Laws, Bad Implementation,” Vasundhara Sirnate, The Hindu, Feb 1, 2014, pg. 10

Raakhee Suryaprakash has a Master’s degree in International Studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry but her passion remains writing and researching things that change the world for the better. Her work has been widely published both in print and online media. Raakhee Suryaprakash is in the process of launching a social enterprise SUNSHINE MILLENNIUM that aims to help India's off-grid rural areas achieve the Millennium Development Goals by setting up of solar-powered millennium development centres maintained by local stakeholders and funded by corporate social responsibility programmes and government schemes.