Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sting Operation - "they asked for it" - Delhi police Attitude towards Rape victims

The shockingly insensitive 'they asked for it' stance of Delhi cops towards rape victims, exposed by an NDTV-Tehelka sting operation is an SOS to the khakhi top brass in the country. The thinking betrays a deep rooted prejudice, perhaps at one level even connivance with the perpetrators, an anti-victim, male chauvinistic, sexist, mindset and either cynicism or impotence of those black sheep meant to protect; and when that fails, to investigate and prosecute. I'm using the term black sheep because not all cops are bad. Some take an extreme position and mete out their own 'justice' to criminals accused of rape. No right thinking person will hold a brief for this either.

For starters, how many women would feel safe in an average police station in the country? The record of custodial rapes is another story in itself. But to suggest that the victim "deserved" to be raped is the most perverse form of escapism. No citizen deserves a crime. Every citizen deserves safety and protection. It's only criminals who deserve punishment. What's frightening is that almost all the cops exposed are Inspectors, who are invariably the investigating officers of crime. The police station constitutes the cutting edge of the department. So when these key players in the criminal justice system make excuses and indulge in a shameless blame game, wouldn't it embolden criminals? Don't we also run the risk of botched up investigation? An investigation into a rape calls for forensic expertise - meticulous collection of evidence ranging from blood, finger nails and skin to semen samples and strands of hair. It also calls for circumstantial evidence to puncture the trademark defence - alibi. If an officer carries the baggage of preconceived notions about the victim, wouldn't that itself be a perfect setting for investigative oversight and ultimately, an acquittal?

It's not the job of an officer to dole out character certificates or sit in judgment over the version of an alleged victim. That's for the court to adjudicate. But if a cop rustles up weak evidence, the public prosecutor would be helpless in preventing a chargesheet from falling by the wayside, from witnesses turning hostile and sometimes, even the victim giving up. Take a look at where the law stands on the issue of 'character'. Under Section 54 of the Evidence Act, the bad character of an accused person is not relevant. Much more irrelevant in the case of a victim! Even a commercial sex worker can be raped. So what are those talking through berets? And look at what the Supreme Court had to say about the testimony of rape victims. In State of Punjab vs Gurmit Singh, the apex court made it clear that the victim's evidence alone is sufficient to convict. The rationale was telling: "In a case of rape, no self-respecting woman would come forward in a court to make a humiliating statement against her honour". Criminal trial can be quite traumatic for a rape victim.


What I find most ridiculous is the argument on dressing as a trigger for a crime of passion. Lust, like beauty, also lies in the eye of the beholder. Actor-politician Khushbu made an interesting point. "There are scores of women who are harassed although they are clad in traditional attire". Public prosecutors will tell you it's not always lust that drives a person to rape. Sift through the clutter of Section 375 Indian Penal Code cases and you will come across other factors like a perverse desire to show authority or to demonstrate superiority over hapless victims. What else would explain the gang rapes of tribal women in Tamil Nadu's Vachhathi village two decades ago? A conviction of 169 officers came just last year! Just recently, an 82-year-old woman was allegedly raped by a 32-year-old man. It took a public outcry and medical reports for the police to take the word of relatives seriously and arrest the man accused of committing the crime. The outrageous 'dress logic' also came to the fore a few years ago when a Vice Chancellor of a University in Chennai banned jeans and T-Shirts on the campus because "professors may get distracted". 

The reference to loose morals is equally frivolous. Whose morals, please? By whose standards? Here's another grossly misrepresented provision of law, that is reflected in movies. An unmarried couple found together in a hotel room. A knock at the door. And the next scene is of the duo being driven away in a police jeep! The Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act does not apply to consenting adults. It only makes living out of earning through prostitution, involving soliciting in a public place, an offence. The Supreme Court has even recognised live in relationships. Consensual sex, as long as the girl is above sixteen, is not the business of a man in khakhi. The police-public ratio is terribly skewed in our country. The crime graph is rising. And the curriculum in our police training academies needs an overhaul and a definite inclusion of gender sensitisation modules. The cops have their task cut out. Georges Clemenceau once quipped: "war is too serious a matter to be left to military men". Perhaps sermonising is too complicated a task for the police!



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