Supporters hold placards during a demonstration in New Delhi (Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • We, the civil society, have to convince the political executive that police reforms and judicial reforms can no longer be delayed

India is currently rocked by the shockingly inhuman child rape and murder at Kathua. The media, rightfully, is making sure this case remains firmly In the public consciousness. Online petitions, some seeking justice for the victim, while others emotionally exhorting readers to ask for the sacking of alleged perpetrators, are spreading rapidly on social media.

There were many other horrifying crimes reported recently such as the March 2018 gang-rape, setting ablaze of a Class V student in Assam and the rape of a six-year-old girl in Bihar just earlier this month. Such is the terrible situation around us. Tragically, 19,765 cases of child rape under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and under sections 4 and 6 of the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) were registered across the country in 2016, according to this report from the National Crime Records Bureau, up 82 per cent from 2015. The actual number could be much more as this data only reflects the cases registered. It is also true that better the policing, greater the number of crimes registered as the police ensure that crimes actually get registered.

As with everything in India, no one really wants to deal with systemic long-term solutions. From cynical political parties to those responsible for governance and administrative matters (from the district level upwards); from a deeply politicised and polarised polity to a badly broken justice system; from a commentariat trying to economically survive to social media feel-good activists, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that keeping the problems boiling serves all constituencies - especially with elections in many states this year and with national elections but a year away.

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But what if one really wanted to seek long term solutions?

A good place to start would be with implementing police reforms. The state of our police makes for dismal reading.

While the UN recommends 222 police per lakh persons, we have 137 police against a sanctioned strength of 181 per lakh. Only 3 per cent of government spending is on policing. The police is overburdened, lacks incentives (constables are promoted on average once in their entire careers), is ill-trained and ill-equipped with weaponry shortages of up to 70 per cent and suffers a 30 per cent deficiency in vehicles. Surprisingly, only 14 per cent of funds allotted for modernisation were utilised by states! Forensic labs, modern investigation techniques (the rate of conviction can do with a lot of improvement), police data and telecom networks and police station infrastructure are some areas crying out for modernisation. Police must have a well-trained media department with a clear chain of command that should be responsible for communicating to the public on case investigations.

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In most countries, the police has independent oversight bodies while being accountable to the political executive. In India, however, ministers control the police and use it for personal and political reasons.

Setting Up Of Fast Track Courts

The state of our justice system has been well documented. The need for more courts, fast track courts with special focus on crimes against minors, especially heinous crimes, need to be set up. Speedy delivery of justice is critical. But this is possible only with a revamp of the legal processes and of the law to make it contemporary. For example, “there is no specific provision under Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to manage science, technology and forensic science issues. Due to lack of having any such provision, an investigating officer has to face much trouble in collecting evidence which involves modern mechanism to prove the accused person guilty. Section 53 of Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 authorises a police officer to get the assistance of a medical practitioner in good faith for the purpose of the investigation. But, it doesn’t enable a complainant to collect blood, semen etc. for bringing criminal charges against the accused. The amendment of Cr. P. C. by the Cr. P. C. (Amendment) Act, 2005 has brought two new sections which authorise the investigating officer to collect DNA samples from the body of the accused and the victim with the help of a medical practitioner. These sections allow examination of person accused of rape by medical practitioner and the medical examination of the rape victim respectively. But the admissibility of these evidence has remained in a state of doubt as the opinion of the Supreme Court and various High Courts in various decisions remained conflicting. Judges do not deny the scientific accuracy and conclusiveness of DNA testing, but in some cases they do not admit these evidence on the ground of legal or constitutional prohibition and sometimes the public policy. Many developed countries have been forced to change their legislation after the introduction of the DNA testing in the legal system”

Responsible Media

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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a philosophical thought experiment used to determine observation and perception. It is apt to ask this question in matters of crime coverage by the media too. Does lack of coverage by the media mean no crime took place anywhere? Is absence of evidence of a crime evidence of absence of crime? Charges of selective amnesia and bias therefore appear warranted in a highly polarised political environment. The media needs to be persuaded and encouraged to re-think its practice while promoting sensational headlines over sensible ones when reporting sensitive crimes. Of not politicising matters, of using data and research over fact-free rhetoric, of seeking the assistance of subject matter experts especially from the investigating authorities. Of editorial training its staff to be responsible and sensible!

Reforms Of The Police, The Law And Administration

Political parties need to allow reforms of the police, the law and administration to take place. This is absolutely critical. There is no need for political parties to be commenting on crimes they have little or no clue about. They should let experts in the police handle. If any comments are needed at all to be made, it is better they have trained, educated and aware spokespersons who understand the matter and can respond in a mature manner. Social media is a great way for parties to express their sympathies and observations.

For Corporations, NGOs

Launch massive education, awareness and training programmes on making people aware of their rights and responsibilities. Sensitisation of people and communities to the nature of such crimes is imperative. Creation of reporting mechanisms, help-lines and counselling centres. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds can be used for such efforts. The CSR law should be examined to make this possible.

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We, The People

We must take most responsibility. It is one of us who is being violated. All of us, from those genuinely concerned to those indulging in virtue signalling to those who have outsourced responsibility to others, have to stand up and take responsibility. Politicians respond to people’s wishes when it becomes an electoral issue. It is time we asked for, demanded actually, reforms in the police, legal and administration systems. We need to be pro-active about these matters and not become party to the manipulations of political parties and media. Such petitions with specific recommendations for reform are worth fighting for.

Will we?

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