In India, a woman is raped every 15 minutes as per the National Crime Records Bureau. And this ghastly statistic is only based on the total tally of rape cases that get reported at all.
There is no need to further highlight the gory details of these crimes that have gripped India for generations now. But the need to find a permanent solution to the issue cannot be put off any more.
To really reach a conclusive answer to the problem, it is essential to at least try and understand the cause. In an effort to do so, the last Weekly Your View asked you to tell us what you consider the biggest cause for rape in India. There are several popularly held opinions regarding why rapes occur but to broadly categorize the responses of our 28 pol takers, 28% suggested poor law enforcement mechanisms as the cause while 36% believed it was a problem in our social structure. Another 36% felt it was a problem in the attitudes of people towards gender violence. All three of these issues are equally relevant. The only way forward would then be to tackle all three causes of the issue. Altering social structures or changing people’s mindsets are not impossible, yet these are solutions that take a long time and should be consistently worked on. Meanwhile, improvements in law enforcement are the quickest reforms we can achieve as they lie in the hands of the state.
It is the duty of the state to provide safety to its citizens. The police are agents of the state in ensuring law and order. But today, their inefficiency, apathy and even their abuse of power makes them a crucial cause for inaction against perpetrators of sexual offences. Most people in fact fear going to the police station to report a crime. The lack of accountability to check their actions gives the police immense authority to use violence to their benefit. Despite having several procedural protocols in place to tackle various crimes, there is no transparency to check their efficiency. Victims of sexual violence are the worst affected by this lack of trust in the police force.
A very important reason for the low rates of conviction in cases of sexual violence is faulty evidence due to shoddy police investigation. The lack of care in handling biological evidence which are vital to the investigation of sexual crimes cannot be excused. Right from the time a case of rape is reported, the police are supposed to ensure all measures are taken to restore the victim’s physical and mental health. But poor training of police officers today has led them to harass and victimize the person further. The social mind set we are trying to fight that reinforces patriarchy and tolerance for sexual predation is the very same that guides these officers. Hence, they are equally responsible for adding to the trauma a rape victim has to go through.
Moreover, many of our respondents felt that delayed justice and inadequate punishment fail to act as deterrents to others. A study by the UNDP in South Asia titled ‘Why do men rape?’ (2013) showed that 72-97% of men who have committed rape in South Asia go without legal consequence for their actions. This kind of impunity is directly related to poor policing as most of the accused are easily let off due to lack of compelling evidence. While the lack of speedy trials is a problem, deterrents come from certainty of punishment rather than quantum. People would be dissuaded from sexual offences if they know that they would surely be caught and punished for the same. Irrespective of social and economic conditions, the fear of a guaranteed penalty for one’s actions would act as the strongest and most efficient deterrent.
All this boils down to increased efficiency, accountability and transparency in the police force- changes that can be brought about by the government. Political will has successfully altered social structure in the past. An example close to home would be that of Sati, a practice quite prevalent in 17th Century India. But an act of legislation that outlawed Sati in 1829 went a long way in nearly wiping out the primitive funeral practice. Today, Sati is an unthinkable offence that has strict repercussions for the perpetrators. Similarly, sexual violence too can be greatly curbed if the government improves the law enforcement mechanisms and guarantees its citizens a safe state. And the only way to do so is to implement the long overdue police reforms.