It is a matter of collective shame that horrific crimes against women have been occurring across the country with remorseless regularity. The recent case of rape and murder of a
34-year-old woman in the suburbs of Mumbai brought back bitter memories of the Nirbhaya case and the nationwide outrage it had triggered. The victim was raped inside a tempo parked on the roadside and assaulted with an iron rod in her private parts, the kind of crime that is a blot on any civilised society. After a familiar round of condemnations by politicians, bland assurances of justice and ordering of a probe by the government, it is back to business-as-usual attitude as society has, by and large, become numb and indifferent to such horrors. Despite stringent anti-rape laws, atrocities against women have been on the rise, a trend that can be largely attributed to the poor conviction rate in such cases and the inherent cultural biases in society. Though the suspect in the Mumbai case, which has a chilling similarity to the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape case of Delhi, was arrested within a few hours of the incident, it raises disturbing questions, not just about the criminal justice system in the country but also about deeply entrenched patriarchal practices that are a hindrance to gender justice. A disturbing reality is that such cases invariably turn out to be mere cold statistics and we seem to be impervious to the pain of the victims and their kin.
India is ranked among the most dangerous countries in the world for women. Though the Nirbhaya case had triggered widespread protests, prompting Parliament to pass a new anti-rape Act with stringent provisions, there seems to be no let-up in the crimes against women. There is also a cynical lack of empathy, even as the unfortunate victims’ family members run from pillar to post to see the rapist-killers punished. It has been a case of too many laws but too little justice. Inordinate delay in punishing the culprits renders the entire system ineffective and the purpose of deterrence is not served. Swift, effective, and deterrent punishment holds the key to check violence against women. Currently, the convicts go for appeals in various upper courts and high courts, resulting in long delays in awarding punishment. This practice must end. There is a need to fast-track the trial process to ensure swift justice. The Hathras and Unnao cases in the past showed that unless the media raises a hue and cry or an outraged civil society protest, the general tendency by the governments is to downplay such gruesome crimes. Last month’s Mysuru gang-rape is the latest example of a minister caught pointing fingers at the victim.
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