Not just laws, look at police reforms too

Not just laws, look at police reforms too

D V Guruprasad

Till a few years ago, victims of rape and their families were hesitant to report incidents because of the perceived social stigma. Cases would often be registered following medico-legal reports confirming sexual assault.

This scenario changed in 1983 when punishment for rape was made more severe and custodial rape was made punishable. If the victim stated that she did not consent to the act, it was to be presumed to be true. The burden of proof shifted to the accused and provision was made for in camera trials.

With the enactment of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, following the Nirbhaya case, the definition of rape was expanded to include any type of bodily penetration. Non-registration of a rape case by the police was made punishable.
An FIR was to be recorded in the police station by a woman police officer. A new law, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, also came into being from 2012.

Did anything change at the police station level after such changes in the law? The two most talked about rape cases of recent times provide the answer.

In the Unnao case, which allegedly occurred in June 2017, the victim’s family had to run from pillar to post for months to get the case registered.
The local police were reportedly reluctant to
take up the case as the accused happened to be a bigwig. Bowing to pressure from various groups, the case was registered and is now being probed by the CBI.

The Kathua case runs on similar lines. Two days after the child went missing, her father reports to the police station where a kidnapping case is registered. During the investigation, the police learn that the girl was not only kidnapped but held captive for a few days, raped and later killed. The investigating officer and his aides are reportedly “bought over” by the accused and an attempt is made to destroy evidence and hush up the case. The Crime Branch of the state police has now filed the charge sheet but doubts are being raised about the bona fide of the investigation.

The questions that are being asked are whether there exist any institutional mechanisms to ensure that justice is done at the grass-root level? Is the police station staff equipped/encouraged to register and investigate rape cases freely? Do the senior police officers supervise the investigation of such cases with the seriousness they deserve? The answers are obvious going by the cited cases.

The fact is that despite the changes in law, registration of a rape case in a police station is not smooth. Firstly, there are not enough women police personnel in police stations. Those who are at the police station are not equipped to deal with such cases with sensitivity. Police personnel are not trained to handle women and juveniles with care. Therefore, the recording of the first information report itself tends to be the first hurdle.

Once the FIR is recorded, the investigation poses a big challenge and requires special skills. Most rapes happen within the confines of four walls and there are no eyewitnesses. Hence, marshalling of credible evidence is crucial. The expansion of the definition of rape has made the collection of scientific physical evidence in such cases difficult and the oral testimony of the victim has to be solely relied upon. 

If the victim is killed after the dastardly act, the investigation becomes tougher. Since the dead tell no tales, the guilt of the accused has to be established purely through circumstantial evidence. Any lawyer would tell us that circumstantial evidence is “weak” evidence. To get conviction based on circumstantial evidence is a herculean task. In such cases which do not attract media attention, cases may simply be closed. In those cases where pressures are brought to detect the case, innocents may be framed. Truth becomes a casualty either way.

What needs to be realised is that convictions can happen only if a case is registered truthfully at the police station and is properly and systematically investigated. And for that we need reforms in the police set up.


(The writer is retired director general of police, Karnataka)

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