The brutal rape and murder of a veterinary doctor last week in Hyderabad had sent shockwaves across India triggering outrage and a demand for justice. In the wee hours of December 6, the Hyderabad police claimed that it gunned down four accused in the case in its “self defence” as the accused tried to flee the site of the crime. The encounter was welcomed by the woman’s father on Friday, December 6. “It has been 10 days since the day my daughter died,” he told ANI, adding, “I express my gratitude towards the police and government for this. My daughter’s soul must be at peace now.” While the Hyderabad police was showered with flowers and their acts of “bravery” were lauded, many have tried to bring attention to the criminal justice system and its failures.
Conviction rates extremely low and abysmal
Statistics highlight the poor law and order situation in the country with 3.59 lakh cases of crime reported against women in 2017 as revealed by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. As many as 32,559 rapes were reported in India in 2017 and the accused were known to the victims in 93.1% of the cases, according to the report. As many as 16,591 rape cases were reported against family friends, employers, neighbours or other known persons and in 10,553 cases, the accused were friends, online friends, live-in partners or separated husbands of the victims, the report highlighted. The conviction rate in rape cases is as low as 32.2% at the national level.
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The report ‘Crime in India – 2017’ also shows that the conviction rate was even lower in metropolitan cities (27.2%) in 2017, the reference year for which the latest data is available. It shows delay in completion of trial in rape cases. In 2017, at the national level, the total number of rape cases for trial was 1,46,201 but only 5,822 (32.2%) cases resulted in conviction, while it was 43.1% in cases of murder.
The table above shows that conviction rates in rape cases remain low, fluctuating between 25% and 30% during most years. The conviction rate for rape trials was 26.4%, 24.2% and 27.1% in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively. The only exception was in 2014—a year after the rape law was amended—when the conviction rate suddenly jumped from 27% to 38%. The lower conviction rates are attributed to the problems with the legal processes and burden on the judicial system. These include delays in registering a first information report (FIR), faulty investigation, indifferent prosecutors, inconsistencies and contradictions in witness statements, and insensitive judges, among others.
Speaking to NewsClick, Brinda Karat, Polit bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] said, “The conviction rates are dismal. If justice means that one has to wait for 10 years while the rapists are out scot free, that means that there is absolutely no conviction." She added, “Since 2016, the annual National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) reports have been suppressed. The 2017 report was released only in 2019. Apart from the deliberate omissions in reporting lynching cases and honour crimes, the report showed an alarming increase in registered crimes against women. The suppression of data, impunity on the part of the state are all adding to the celebration of the mob justice.”
This week, parliamentarians across party lines responded to the murder and alleged gangrape of a 27-year-old veterinary surgeon in Hyderabad. Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan wanted rapists to be publicly lynched, while a Telangana MP demanded public capital punishment. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader P Wilson asked for a legal provision to allow the chemical castration of rapists before they are released from jails. Speaking to NewsClick, Kavitha Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) said, “We need to look at specific cases. We need to understand what happens when a woman comes forth and speaks out the truth. It's a slap on the face of the complainant when there is no conviction. It's a little too facile to say that people celebrated as justice would not be done otherwise. We are in a popular culture which celebrates custodial killings, this is being celebrated in terror cases too. The government, the media and the police are trying to create an atmosphere that blocks the questions for a more substantive justice. These kinds of instances allow us to feel good about ourselves, without requiring one to question their own complicity in patriarchy.”
Also read: NHRC Takes Cognizance of Hyderabad Encounter, Orders Probe
She added, “However, to assume that low conviction rates and the processes of the legal system are the only factors which enable the creation of a culture which celebrates instantaneous justice is a fallacy. The celebration of an alleged encounter shifts the focus from the larger structural questions.”
The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) also issued a statement, reflecting the crisis of the legal system and the duality of stances taken by political organisations. The statement read, “Rape survivors in Unnao, UP, who showed the courage to lodge cases were subjected to murderous attacks (the second one set on fire by accused freed on bail) in which police were unable to protect witnesses. Most recently, all 4 accused in the Telangana case of most heinous rape and murder of Dr Priyanka Reddy have been killed in 'police encounter' even before investigation and judicial process could start. We have found that the police did not even cooperate with the family when they reported her as missing.”
Several activists, and lawyers have also raised questions about the delivery of fast track justice, the police insensitivity and the manner in which the police took the role of the executioners in their own hands.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover called for an independent judicial inquiry into the incident as per guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court. “So all that the state will do in the name of ensuring that women live as equal and free citizens is to add to its arsenal of unlimited arbitrary violence,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “No investigation, no prosecution, these killings distract the public and save the police and state from any accountability,” read the post.