Coming out from the medieval

Last Updated 14 December 2013, 19:55 IST

A year after the gang rape of a young physiotherapy intern in south Delhi, the city may not have drastically turned into a safe place for women with several areas still cloaked in darkness. 

But the public outrage shook the authorities to wake up and act. The incident and the reaction of the authorities marked the beginning of promising changes.

The first and the most visible result of the incident in a moving bus on December 16, 2012 was the realisation that existing laws were inadequate for handling various forms of sexual assault and harassment.

The government set up the Justice J S Verma committee to review laws related to sexual offences.

The committee headed by former Chief Justice of India J S Verma submitted a 630-page report to the government to enhance punishment for offenders of crime against women.

The committee completed the task within four weeks of its creation on December 23, 2012. It received a whopping 80,000 responses after the Home Ministry made a public notice inviting suggestions to prevent crimes against women from across India.The committee in its report blamed the government, police insensitivity and gender bias for rising crimes against women.

Its report paved the way for recognising the seriousness of “digital rape” and punishing undefined offences such as disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking. The committee suggested that use of words, acts or gestures that create an unwelcome threat of a sexual nature should be termed as sexual assault and punishable with one year imprisonment or fine or both.

The ordinance passed by the union cabinet following the report went for harsher punishment to rapists – a minimum of 20 years imprisonment and death penalty in extreme cases.

Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code now carry a maximum punishment of three years compared to one year earlier.

A rape convict who repeats the crime will stay in jail for the rest of his life under 376 E IPC.

Gang rape facilitators or accused involved in the crime as part of common intention also attract punishment similar to what is given to people who commit the sexual assault.

Helpline for women

Women in Delhi say the biggest gain from the public outrage following the December 16 case is the new round-the-clock helpline for women created after the incident. The 1091 helpline, which was created simultaneously in many states, takes complaints of women in distress and works as a link between the victim and the police station concerned. 

Even complaints against autorickshaw drivers who refuse to carry commuters to the desired destination are entertained by the helpline in the city.

Prompt FIRs

There is some change in the attitude of Delhi Police towards registration of cases involving sexual assault and harassment. Some examples are the ones involving self-styled godman Asaram Babu and retired Supreme Court Judge A K Ganguly.

It was due to Delhi Police’s prompt reaction to the complaint against Asaram that they registered a case at the railway station and later transferred the case to Rajasthan Police for investigation.

In Justice Ganguly’s case, Delhi Police are trying to contact the law intern who said she was sexually harassed by him. They want her to give her version so that they could proceed in the case, just as Goa Police did in another case of sexual assault by Tarun Tejpal, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine.

The prompt registration of FIRs by police over complaints of sexual assault and harassment has also resulted in a spurt in cases being reported. Till November 15, Delhi Police registered 1,435 rape cases in the city compared to 632 on the same date last year. Molestation cases registered till November 15 were 3,200 compared to 727 last year and eve teasing cases were 850 compared to 125.

Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the rise in the number of rape cases is partly linked to better reporting of cases. “Not registering any case would amount to criminal offence,” he said.

A senior official said 8,000 posters warning eve teasers were printed for display in buses. “Traffic police have also identified 200 poorly lit bus stops and posted staff at areas from where we get the maximum number of complaints about autorickshaws refusing to go to commuters’ destination,” he said.

Woman investigators for rape

The Verma committee’s recommendations and Delhi Police’s response after the December 16 incident has also ensured that there is a woman investigation officer in all police stations in the capital to probe sexual offences against women. 

This saves the victim from inconvenience related to answering questions of a male investigator.

The gang rape of the physiotherapy intern in Munirka threw up questions of delay in medical treatment of rape victims. Soon after the incident the Delhi High Court took suo moto cognisance of the inadequacies in the system and directed the government to take corrective measures. 

This was the reason why the central government issued a direction that even private hospitals will take immediate action to treat victims of rape and road accidents.Fast-track courts

The Supreme Court also acted fast to create fast-track courts across the country to try rape cases. The Munirka incident was tried in a fast-track court in Saket district court complex in south Delhi. The court punished the convicts to death on September 10, nine months after the crime.

Auto drivers cannot say no at night

The Munirka gang rape incident had its roots in refusal by autorickshaws to take the victim to her house in west Delhi. This forced the victim to board the chartered bus in which she was brutalised.

To prevent a repeat of such an incident, Delhi Police and the government issued directions that after sunset no autorickshaw or taxi driver will refuse to carry a woman passenger. If the driver dose so, he will face action, which includes fine and cancellation of licence.

Women were also advised to report such matters on the 1091 helpline.

This is one area where progress has been minimal since last year’s gruesome gang rape. Auto drivers continue to ignore directions with impunity putting thousands of women to inconvenience after sunset. 

“There is still no fear of the law among autorickshaw drivers,” said Sujata Suri, a resident of Defence Colony.

Chartered and public transport buses are not allowed to use curtains on windows. After sunset, buses are required to switch on the seating area lights and keep them on till their point of night halt. 

Sensitive police force

Delhi Police say the gang rape was a trigger for them to train junior police personnel to handle cases related to women in a more sensitive manner. More women personnel are being deployed at police stations. “We have also opened women help desks at police stations,” said a senior police officer. Orders have been issued to monitor routes taken by BPO vehicles for ensuring safety of women workers.

(Published 14 December 2013, 19:55 IST)

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