India’s criminal justice system continues to fail rape victims in the delivery of justice. Just a fraction of rape victims are likely to see their assailants convicted. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures, the conviction rate in rape cases in the country was just 32.2% in 2017. The rate has increased in recent years, albeit marginally. As much worrying is the fact that charge sheeting in rape cases has dropped from 95.4% in 2013 to 86.6% in 2017. This means that although women register complaints of sexual assault at police stations, in many instances, the case doesn’t make it to the court for an array of reasons, including intimidation of rape survivors and their kin by assailants to withdraw the case. Responding to public outrage following the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman, ‘Nirbhaya’ in New Delhi, the government put in place a slew of measures to improve security for women and prevent rape. Laws that provided for tough punishment were enacted. More fast-track courts were set up to speed up the delivery of justice to rape victims. And calls for sensitising and training police gathered momentum.
There has been progress on some fronts. Public awareness on the bestiality of rape has grown. A growing number of women are going to the police to register complaints. And while these are just a fraction of the large number who have suffered violence—the social stigma of being a rape victim deters most women from going to the police—the fact that women are registering complaints indicates that more victims want justice. However, the criminal justice is not of much help to them.
Inefficient police investigations, failure of prosecutors to build an effective case against the rape accused, intimidation of victims as well as corruption among the police and legal fraternity where they succumb to pressure or bribes to acquit the accused are responsible for the low conviction rate in rape cases. Low rape convictions are alarming as this means that the accused then roams free, able and encouraged to commit the crime again. By denying the rape victim justice, the courts are standing in the way of her healing and rehabilitation. Many people demand stern punishment including the death sentence for rapists. Such discussions are irrelevant when our criminal justice system is unable and unwilling to convict rapists. Retraining of police to be efficient and more sensitive to rape victims while investigating the crime is necessary. Lawyers and judges should be trained to avoid subjecting a victim to insensitive questions. Rape victims should not have to relive the horror of a rape at a harrowing trial.