New Delhi: Seven years after the brutal Nirbhaya gang rape that shook the entire nation, the conviction rate in rape cases in the country is as low as 32.2 per cent despite laws dealing with sexual assault being made stringent in the aftermath of the incident.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data available for 2017, the total number of rape cases that went to trial in that year was 1,46,201 but only 5,822 of them resulted in conviction.
What is perhaps more worrisome is that while the conviction rate in rape cases has increased marginally in recent years, the charge-sheeting rate has gone down — which means cases are not going to court.
The charge-sheeting rate in rape cases dropped to 86.6 per cent in 2017 from 95.4 per cent in 2013, the NCRB statistics show.
Shilpi Jain, who was the defence lawyer in the Alwar rape case wherein a foreign tourist was raped by Bitti Mohanty, son former Odisha director general of police B B Mohanty, said the field-level staff of police dealing with rape investigation need to be made more efficient.
”They are mostly ill-equipped, inexperienced, power gets to their head and in most cases they are extremely corrupt,” said Jain.
A 23-year-old paramedic student, who came to be known as Nirbhaya, was gang raped on the intervening night of 16-17 December, 2012, in a running bus in south Delhi by six people. Severely assaulted before being thrown out on the road, she succumbed to injuries on 29 December at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.
All the accused, including a juvenile, were arrested and charged with sexual assault and murder. One of the accused, Ram Singh, died in police custody of possible suicide on 11 March, 2013 in the Tihar Jail.
A week after the horrific attack on Nirbhaya, the Justice JS Verma Committee was set up to review the criminal laws to sternly deal with sexual assault cases.
The Committee’s report, which was published within a month, formed the basis of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 to set the maximum punishment for rape as death penalty rather than life imprisonment.
On 3 February, 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 was promulgated by then President Pranab Mukherjee. It provides for amendment of the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, on laws related to sexual offences. The ordinance provides for the death penalty in cases of rape.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 was also passed by Parliament, allowing for juveniles in conflict with law in the age group of 16-18, involved in heinous offences, to be tried as adults.
But despite the two laws being made stringent, the rate of conviction in rape cases remain as low as 32 per cent, as per NCRB data.
Nirbhaya parents seek time-bound justice
It has been seven years to that fateful day when their daughter – who came to be known as ”Nirbhaya” – was brutally gangraped and thrown off a bus, but her parents still await justice.
The tag of rape capital became all the more pronounced after the Nirbhaya incident but her parents say it is a pan-India problem and cannot bring themselves to hate the national capital, which snatched their child.
”Delhi snatched everything away. But we cannot hate Delhi since our state Uttar Pradesh has also been seeing such incidents. There is no place in the world where we can go where such incidents do not happen. You cannot hate the entire world,” says Nirbhaya’s mother.
But they hope and pray that things improve for the better. In the last few days, they have seen a bit of hope, with reports saying the four accused in the case might be hanged soon.
As Nirbhaya’s mother puts it, ”We are hopeful. We have been waiting for it. It is not easy till the time we get their death warrant and the date.”