LAST week, full justice to two victims of brutal rape was delivered: one by the Supreme Court, another by the Mumbai High Court. The Supreme Court upheld the Delhi High Court’s verdict of capital punishment to four rapists in the Nirbhaya case; the Mumbai High Court upheld the lower court’s verdict of life imprisonment to the accused in the Bilkis Banu case. While justice in the Nirbhaya case was delivered in over four years, it took 15 long years for Bilkis Banu to get justice. However, quick or delayed, the two judgements have even more strengthened people’s faith in the judiciary: they have sent out a strong message to the potential rogues that crimes against women would not go unpunished.
However, while the judiciary plays its role, the central and state authorities must work to create an environment in which women can enjoy equal, free and unmolested access to public spaces and safety during riots. The governments must establish a strong preventive system. The police force has to be sensitized to take immediate cognizance of crimes against women. Mere establishment of women’s police stations and deployment of lady police personnel would not do unless investigating authorities have the zeal to help women. Often investigating officials take time to start a probe in cases of rape, forcing complainants to get into depression, even end their lives, as they are unable to bear the social stigma and delay in prosecution of the accused. The laws on crimes against women were made stronger following the recommendations by the Justice J S Verma committee. There has been clamour for abolition of death penalty. However, the government has to weigh options before amending the law. It has to ensure that the law has provision that would serve as deterrent. Enhancing life imprisonment to 50 years or so without parole could be considered if death penalty has to be withdrawn.
The police have to play the major role in making women feel safe. They must take preemptive action against rogue elements. The police in civilian dress could keep a tab on anti-socials in public spaces and public transport such as buses and take action against them in accordance with the law. The police could take help of CCTV cameras at public places and public transport in which women continue to be ‘molested’ in the name of being requested to move ahead to make way for others. Surprise random raids in such cases would serve as deterrent to the rogue elements.
All the cases of rape and atrocities against women are not reported. It is uncommon, rather than common, for women to have courage to file complaints, name the accused and fight the case to seek their conviction, as the parents of Nirbhaya and the Bilkis Banu did. In the Nirbhaya and Bilkis Banu cases it is not enough to praise the judges: we must praise the parents of Nirbhaya and Bilkis Banu for their sheer and undaunted persistence of the cases. Of course, the police in the Nirbhaya case and the CBI in Bilkis Banu too deserve praise for having done good investigation and left no room for acquittal in both the cases. The rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of fourteen members of her family members were horrifying. The incident took place during the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, when the victim and her murdered family were trying to escape a violent mob. Though she approached the local police station to register a case against the assailants, she was driven away by the police who also threatened her with dire consequences if she proceeded with the matter. She had to approach the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court to get justice. The Supreme Court directed the CBI to probe the crime against her. On a subsequent petition the apex court also transferred the case out of her home state of Gujarat after she alleged threat from assailants and others to neighbouring Maharashtra.
India will be a safe country for women if the police in states and the CBI do impeccable investigation to get the accused in every rape case convicted. The two cases should make a model for the police throughout the country to learn to make a proper case. Women are seen as sexual objects: this attitude must change. However, this cannot change by education and moral sermonizing alone. The women have been fighting against it by proving themselves equal to men in almost all walks of life and moving about in public spaces. Why cannot they be seen as individuals, as men always are? Why are they seen as women? While the women fight the attitude, the police must help them fight the rogues.