The four suspects were taken to the crime scene, ostensibly for a reconstruction of events as part of the investigation.
The drama that unfolded in the two weeks or so since the brutal gangrape-murder of a young veterinarian from Hyderabad could well have been material for a badly-scripted horror movie. But the real horror of the entire episode was that it was not a movie or a work of fiction. It happened in real life! Since the Nirbhaya case seven years ago, which shook the collective conscience of the nation and brought the issue of rape into the forefront of public discourse, there have been regular public outbursts protesting against rising crimes against women, especially rape. Incidents like Kathua, Unnao and the latest being the Hyderabad gangrape-murder brought angry people into the streets in cities across India. What followed was as shocking as the gruesome rape-murder itself. The four suspects were taken to the crime scene, ostensibly for a reconstruction of events as part of the investigation. Going by the police version, all four were shot dead when they allegedly snatched guns from the police, attacked them and tried to escape.
The media kept showing scenes of celebrations in Hyderabad and elsewhere hailing the police action, women dancing to beating drums and tying “rakhis” to policemen, treating them as heroes! That sane, rational citizens of a matured democracy would applaud a summary “execution” of suspects without a trial is inexplicable. But public outrage had been growing over the incidents of rapes. The lackadaisical attitude of the government, with its knee-jerk reactions and the absence of any serious efforts to curb crimes against women has been adding fuel to the fire. As a result, the public anger and frustration over its inability to do anything other than protest turned overnight into a mass hysteria of celebration over an action that appears to be nothing but a staged encounter.
Any extra-judicial killing, even that of a criminal, is unacceptable. It is not only a gross violation of human rights, but it threatens the core principles of democracy that is founded and operates on the premise of the rule of law. The public euphoria over the Hyderabad killing of suspects raises an extremely pertinent question. Are people losing faith in the institutions and systems meant to deliver justice? While there can’t be any instant “Nescafe” justice, more so in cases involving capital punishment, the inordinate delay in the process of investigations, trial, and execution of verdicts wears out public patience and reasserts its belief in the inefficacy of the established instruments for delivering justice. Justice delayed is justice denied! Seven long years have passed since the Nirbhaya incident. While one of the convicts tried under the juvenile law (since then amended and made more stringent) was released after he completed a few years of punishment and another hanged himself, the verdict of capital punishment for the others is yet to be implemented.
Activists across the world would agree that it is not the severity of punishment but the certainty of it, along with quick dispensation of justice, which is a greater deterrent for the prevention of crime. The alarming pendency of cases in India’s courts system that leads to excessive delays in delivering a final verdict is a matter of great concern. In answering a Parliament question, the law ministry said that as on November 1, 2019, the number of cases pending in the Supreme Court is nearly 60,000; as on November 28, 2019, nearly 45 lakh cases are pending in high courts and over 30 million cases are pending in the district and subordinate courts. The high rate of vacancies of judges, around 410 in the high courts and over 5,000 in the subordinate courts, create tremendous additional pressure and delays in trials. The courts are closed for considerable periods during summer, Christmas, Diwali, Holi, Dussehra and other local holidays. In 2018, the Supreme Court worked on 193 days, high courts on an average for 210 days and the subordinate courts on an average for 245 days. Given this humungous backlog, it might be wise to cut down on court holidays, especially ones like summer holidays. With all due respect to “My Lords”, judges are not school children who need such long breaks. The process of justice can’t be suspended for a holiday!
Along with judicial reforms and building of judicial infrastructure, police reforms and sensitisation is equally necessary. Difficulties in lodging FIRs due to general reluctance, jurisdiction complications and insensitivity towards rape victims are some of the principal obstacles a victim faces at the very first point of contact with the justice delivery system. Governments need to recruit more police personnel and invest heavily in their training and sensitisation to handle cases of crimes against women. But what is required most is the political will to fight crimes against women, which is shamefully missing. In a shocking revelation, the data tabled by the ministry of women and child development states that as of November 2019, more than 91 per cent of the money sanctioned to the states and UTs out of the Nirbhaya Fund, that was created for taking measures for prevention of crimes against women, lie unutilised. Out of Rs 1,672 crores allocated by the ministry, only Rs 147 crores have been used. Delhi, which is notorious as the nation’s rape capital, has used only five per cent of the allocated budget. Another set of statistics reveals that in the Prime Minister’s pet project “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”, out of its sanctioned budget of Rs 928 crores since its inception in 2015, only 19 per cent has been sent to the states and districts for the beneficiaries, whereas 40 per cent has been budgeted for advertisements.
The stringent laws and justice delivery systems come into play only after the crime has been committed. But prevention is always better than cure. It is essential to create a conducive environment for women’s security with immediate, medium and long-term goals not only through the legal and law enforcement systems, but through gender sensitisation programmes at every level, beginning with family, community, educational institutions and work spaces. It is not easy. Mindsets take years to change. But there has to be some genuine efforts. It’s a long and hazardous journey, but with genuine political will and concerted efforts between governments, civil society and concerned citizens, it’s not impossible either.