Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dealing with Rape & other sexual crimes against women: A quick compilation of suggestions emailed to Justice Verma Committee January 3, 2013 by Snigdha

Dealing with Rape & other sexual crimes against women: A quick compilation of suggestions emailed to Justice Verma Committee

January 3, 2013 by Snigdha 
The following is what I have emailed to the Verma Committee in response to their call to citizens to give suggestions regarding amendments to existing laws on rape and other sexual crimes against women.
Please add your suggestions and/or reiterate the ones with which you agree, and send by email to or through fax at 011-23092675 by 5th Jan, 2013. We simply can not afford to keep quiet at this juncture. It is necessary that the committee gets a sizeable cross-section of public opinion on various dimensions of this complex issue of crime against women.
Any crime has to be dealt with broadly at 3 levels – Prevention, Deterrence & Justice. Prevention requires Reforms to change attitude & systems on all related fields and implementation of systems. Deterrence comes from fear of consequences of committing a crime, which, in turn, flows from visibility of quick & certain apprehension of the culprit, conviction  and severity of punishment. Justice comes from reasonable correspondence of punishment to crime committed including reform & rehabilitation of the convict in eminently deserving cases – very discerningly & judiciously based on all critical dimensions like motivation, provocations, triggers, age & maturity, residual life out of jail after serving the sentence requiring the need to bring back the person to the social mainstream etc.
While Police and Administration has the first responsibility to ensure safety of citizens & quick apprehension of offenders, investigation & producing them with evidence before the Court of Law, the Legal system has the onerous responsibility to ensure carriage of justice as well as a major portion of deterrence in terms of  fast-track trial/conviction and exemplary punishment that instils fear of consequences.
Keeping in view the above and my understanding that the assigned scope of suggestions to be made by the esteemed Verma committee is to suggest amendments to existing Laws relating to crimes against women/ sexual offences, I, as a lay-person, offer the following suggestions. Legal nuances & modalities can always be worked out by the experts and experienced in the legal field.
 1.  The first cardinal principle on which  Laws relating to RAPE must be based on should be : “ Even a prostitute/sex worker has a right not to be raped.”
2. Rape to be made a non-bailable offense.
 3. Fast track courts at least for crimes against women of serious nature like rape, acid attacks and other serious sexual assaults ( to be clearly defined). The ideal position would be to have separate fast track courts for all crimes against women – from eve-teasing, stalking, molestation, other sorts of sexual harassment to acid attacks, rape, and dowry deaths.
4. Fast track must be set up across the entire legal structure from trial court at the bottom to appellate judiciary at High Court and Supreme Court.
 (Otherwise, even after fast track trial and conviction at the lower court, the ultimate conviction may take years to come through, prolonging the misery and victimisation of the victim, ultimately resulting in possible miscarriage of justice. Delayed trials and appeal disposals, coupled with chargesheeted rapists or serious sex offenders out on bail is a sure shot recipe for enhanced risk to the victim in particular and society, in general. )
 5. In- camera trial of these cases.  Information Technology need be harnessed to speed up proceedings in the fast track courts  & enhance efficiency of the courts in actually disposing off these cases.
 6. The fast track courts to complete trial within 3 months hearing on a day-to-day basis. The appellate judiciary similarly need to have fast track disposal of the appeals within another 3 months. All cases, thus, must be disposed off and final verdicts passed for ultimate execution thereof within 6 months of commencement of trial.
 7. ban on much objectionable ‘2-finger’ medical test of the assaulted and repeated offensive, humiliating questions regarding details of the incident and exact sequence of violation.
8.  DNA test reports and other forensic test reports relating to sexual assault to be made sufficient evidence of crime having been committed.
9. The onus of proving innocence in sexual offenses should lie on the defendant           ( accused) instead of onus resting on the prosecution to prove the crime.
10. Attempt to rape/ gang-rape to be treated on par with rape.
 (Although establishing evidence relating to attempt to rape may be a little difficult, as compared to establishing rape, it is equally culpable and must be equivalently punished, if proven, for a greater deterrent value. Hopefully, with advanced forensic skills and DNA tests, physical resistance by the victim before the ultimate violation ( read, rape) happens is likely to leave many other verifiable evidence like bruises by nails, bites, hair and so many other stuff.)
11. Stringent and graded punishment need be imposed, depending upon motivation, gravity and brutality of the assault. The minimum in case of rape should be 7 years of imprisonment to 14 years with fine or added term in lieu thereof. In grievous cases, punishment must be  enhanced to  life imprisonment upto 30-50 yrs  subject to a maximum sentence of capital punishment in the rarest of rare cases. Gang rape must attract stricter punishment on the upper end of the scale of punishment.
 (Nothing less than death penalty will be deterrent enough for rapists. Rape is a bigger crime than murder, not only from a woman’s perspective, but from a perspective of the entire society and humanity at large. And gang rape touches the nadir!
The recent Delhi gang-rape case is a glaring example of an open and shut case involving unimaginable degree of savagery in a rape case that may qualify for capital punishment.)
12. Chemical castration should NOT be a prescribed punishment.
(Perverts like rapists getting out of jail after going through such punishment are more likely to imbibe greater mental sickness and adopt other deadly modus operandi like acid attacks, murder or other brutalities on the victim and/or others in the society.  Society can not afford to have these pervert minds roaming around freely even with impotency. )
13. Mercy petitions to the President against capital punishment in a rarest of rare case of sexual assault, once upheld by the highest judiciary, viz. the Supreme Court, must not be allowed.
14. On conviction, full legal cost & medical expenses incurred by the victim/State to be made good by the convict, or extra punishment in lieu thereof should be imposed, if has no means to pay. State to bear this in latter cases.
15. Victim and witnesses be provided protection even if the accused is in police/judicial custody till the final verdict and execution. Necessary to foil any bid to pressurize the victim by anyone known to the accused, especially when accused is a person/related to persons of known clout or  known criminal background.
 16. Laws relating to juvenile accused need a relook to book accused aged 16-17 years of age on par with majors in crimes involving brutality of high degree.
 (A question mark still remains. Even if the juvenile laws are amended, will the same be applicable to the 17 yr old minor accused in the bestial Delhi bus gangrape case ? Because, as on the date of committing the crime, the accused was a minor and came under the purview of the existing juvenile laws. Should be examined, if retrospective effect clause could be brought in by way of amendment.)
17.Mandatory in-jail counselling of sexual assault convicts aged upto 30  serving prison terms upto 14 years
 (A peculiar aspect of many convicts in cases of sexual offences involving sentences at the lower end is their age and expected residual life after serving the sentence in prison. A majority of them happen to be young & in their 20s/30s and even after serving a long sentence in prison from 7 to 14 years, long years of life in the society normally await them. This makes it imperative to think about how to reform and reclaim these people, in eminently deserving cases. Start with mandatory counselling of at least those under age of 30 ( i.e very young, who are likely to have a quite long residual life even after completing 7 to 14 years of sentence), put their behaviour under observation for suitable further BS intervention. As these crimes are usually committed in young age in some cases on the spur of the moment or to settle a score after being rejected, some of them still have a possibility of getting truly remorseful and reformed. The aim of this measure is to try and reform the convict, so that when he goes out of jail, he will not be a repeat offender and /or will be in a position to return to the social mainstream.   )
Other suggestions:
18. National database of rapists and persons convicted of other sexual assaults to be compiled and updated on an on-going basis and made public with their photographs by displaying at police stations. The directory should also be made available on-line. This will go a long way in alerting prospective employers/hirers and others entering into any kind of dealings with them, apart from helping law enforcement authorities in averting repeat offences or bringing them to book.
19. Mandatory Identity Badge with photograph and driving licence particulars for drivers of all types of commercial/govt. vehicles plying for public transport – which should be displayed/mounted inside the vehicle in front side in such a manner as to be visible to the passenger as soon as he/she enters the vehicle.
 20 . Install GPS in all public transports
 21. FIRs must be lodged under CCTV coverage in police stations.
 22. Segregate law & order enforcing team from investigating agency within police
 23. Ensure good infrastructure and technical skill for forensic tests and preservation of forensic evidence till production in court
 24. Ensure street lights in cities
 25. Increase visibility of Police -  more PCR Vans, more constables/homeguards near malls, entertainment spots, in public buses/ trains/metro at night after , say, 9 pm, more beat police at night etc
 26. Install CCTVs at various points of roads for a good enough surveillance of all public transports
 27. PCR & PCR Vans to be equipped with advanced technology-supported tools like mobile trackers etc. and special numbers be allotted or IT be harnessed in some other way to enable women in distress to send out sos calls to police by simple touching/pressing of one or two keys. With mobile tracker, police can reach the spot most expeditiously.
 28. A special drive be made to gender-sensitize police.
 29. Each Police station to have a woman police officer &  each PCR van to have a well-trained woman police officer.
30. Consider feasibility of on-line lodgement of FIR. Online lodgement of FIR to be noted immediately– to be formalised after either visit by the police to the complainant on the spot through mobile tracking/to address given or, after the complainant comes to the police station – depending on the exact situation. Modalities may be worked out by the experts.
31. Fill up all vacancies in the judiciary and enhance strength of police and judges to reasonable numbers vis-à-vis the vast population of India that they are supposed to serve! Crying hoarse about fast-tracking without ensuring the numbers, skills and other enabling factors will lead us nowhere.
The long term solutions, however, call for reforms in Police, Judiciary, Social mindset.