Seven years after the Nirbhaya tragedy pricked the nation’s conscience and brought international attention to the rampant sexual violence in India, little has changed on the ground. The horrific gang rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in Hyderabad has triggered widespread public anger and outrage. Such mind-numbing brutality makes one feel utterly helpless and cynical about the implementation of criminal justice system in the country. It is a matter of collective shame for the nation to have failed to ensure security for women despite a string of laws being in place. Though the 2012 Nirbhaya case triggered a flurry of legal and policy reforms and prompted the Parliament to pass a new anti-rape act with stringent provisions, there is no improvement in the area of women’s safety. 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. The Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy’s announcement on amendments to the IPC and CrPC to expedite trial in grave offences is a welcome move. The Centre is considering a suggestion that the conviction in such cases by trial courts can be challenged only in the Supreme Court. 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.
It is not enough to suspend a few policemen for failing to act swiftly in registering the cases, as was done in the case of the veterinary doctor’s rape and murder. Stringent action must be initiated against the police in case of dereliction of duty. Better policing and response systems must be put in place to ensure that women can move freely. While a few initiatives were taken in some cities in the recent past to improve the safety of women travelling alone, including launching government-funded apps and helplines and rolling out GPS tracking for auto-rickshaw and private cab drivers, the impact has not been encouraging as there is a spike in the number of rapes and murders across the country. According to a 2018 poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation, India is ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for women. A woman is raped every 15 minutes in India. The sexual assault survivors face several hurdles in seeking justice, starting from social stigma and abuse while registering the cases with the police to trial delays and violence against witnesses. This ordeal traumatises the victim to no end.