Police As Accomplice

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Ineffective enforcement of law in rising crimes against women

There is a countrywide concern over the rising number of crimes against women. The year between 2018 and 2019, for which recorded data is available, the country witnessed a seven per cent increase in the crimes against women. The Centre’s reminder last week to the state and Union Territory governments to take time-bound action in cases of crimes against women is a response to the growing public concern. There is criticism of the police in preventing crimes against women. The police inaction was visible in the gangrape of a 20-year old woman from Hathras in Uttar Pradesh last month. In the advisory issued on Saturday, the Home Ministry has directed the police in states and UTs to use the three sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure that deal with “compulsory registration of FIR”, completion of investigation (in rape cases) within 60 days and mandatory medical examination to be conducted with the individual’s consent by a qualified doctor within 24 hours of receipt of information of such a crime. The MHA has also directed governments to issue instructions to all concerned to ensure strict compliance with the provisions and to monitor the cases on ITSSO (an online portal) to ensure suitable follow-up action. Aware that “failure of the police to adhere to these mandatory requirements may not augur well for the delivery of criminal justice in the country, especially in context of women safety” the Centre has warned of “stringent action” against those not following the rules.

Though such directives are issued every now and then, especially when heinous crimes  against women draw wide media attention, the state governments choose not to follow them. The police forces across the country were sensitized after the Nirbhaya tragedy, which is still fresh in the minds of many people. However, the UP police forgot the guidelines but were callous and even allegedly complicit in handling the case of the Hathras Dalit woman. The police sent collected the swab for testing the incidence of rape 11 days after the crime was committed, as a result of which crucial evidence was lost.

The existing laws, including the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, if applied, can help the victims get justice. The country has stringent laws to deal with crimes against women; the police have to follow them properly. An order of the Supreme Court says that a statement, when offered as a dying declaration and satisfies all the requirements of judicial scrutiny, cannot be discarded merely because it has not been recorded by a magistrate or that the police officer did not obtain attestation by any person present at the time of making the statement. Why does the Centre have to tell the state and UT governments that it was necessary to use the sexual assault evidence collection kits in every case of sexual assault reported? On this score, the home ministry has been regularly conducting training and training of trainers programmes on procedure for collection, preservation and handling of forensic evidence for police and prosecutors and medical officers respectively.

The data released by the National Crime Records Bureau last month revealed that India recorded an average of 87 rape cases per day last year. The NCRB records also reveal that crimes, especially rape of women has been increasing year after year. Though cases are registered against perpetrators of crimes not all the cases are pursued by the police and government to secure conviction of the accused. There have been instances of criminals resorting to rape after their acquittal in earlier cases. The authorities should carry out an audit of the investigations into crimes against women and find out whether there were lapses and ensure that all those responsible were taken to task and such lapses were not repeated in future. The police have to be sensitized that they should not merely try to bring down tempers by putting the accused behind bars but also apply relevant sections of laws and carry on investigations systematically to ensure that criminals do not go scot-free. Along with action against criminals it is also necessary that authorities across the country work towards facilitating social changes with regard to dignity of women.