The news of all four accused in the rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor on November 29 having been gunned down by the Hyderabad Police in an encounter on December 6 was sensational. Photographs of an encounter specialist police officer instantaneously flooded social media. There was pandemonium on television, with political parties vying to outdo each other. A commotion in Parliament was expected, with a blame game by both sides – instant justice versus the rule of law. And, of course, vows that the most stringent laws will be brought in.
The irony of India is that every issue is politicised, with action contingent on which way the vote-bank can be maneuvered. That done, all else is forgotten, and this applies to rapes and rape-cum-murders as well. The urgency to punish the culprits early and set an example is grossly missing both in the polity and the judiciary.
Take the high-profile case of Nirbhaya, which saw demonstrations and prayer meetings pan-India. It has taken seven excruciating years with the President just recently turning down the mercy petition of the five accused. So, they should get the death sentence shortly.
But the most vicious rapist of Nirbhaya was a little more than 17 years old, a juvenile named Mohammad Afroz, who even violated her with an iron rod. Yet, he went scot-free after spending three years in a remand home. The Delhi chief minister even gave him Rs 10,000 for rehabilitation.
Statistics show a high rise in juvenile crime, including rapes, and a majority are not orphans, negating the perception they come from deprived backgrounds and are without guidance. Yet, the soft-pedaling of juvenile rapists continues, which amounts to abetting the rise of such heinous incidents.
Cynically sick of the delay in justice for rape cases, a majority of the public welcomed the news of the Hyderabad cops gunning down the alleged rapists. A cross-section says if we can follow triple talaq like Muslim countries, why not shoot rapists in public, like what is done in Saudi Arabia, or have their genitals chewed publicly by trained canines?
Doubts also emerged over if those shot were the actual rapists. The fact remains that public confidence in a highly politicised police force remains low. Was this encounter to show BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh in poor light, where rapes are aplenty and the victim of the Unnao rape case was once again raped by rapists on bail, who then burnt her and she died in a hospital with 90% burns?
The narrative of the Hyderabad encounter is that the four accused were taken to the site of the rape in the early hours of the morning. They managed to snatch two pistols from the policemen, fired and injured two cops, and were shot in retaliation. Were they being taken for a picnic? Why were they not roped to each other, if not handcuffed, to avoid them from running away? How does this reflect on the alertness of the accompanying cops (how many were there?) and the encounter specialist – four unarmed men snatch weapons of two cops and fire at them?
With reference to the encounter, Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde has said that “justice loses its character if it becomes revenge”. But would the lawmakers and the judiciary reply to the exasperated public who seek timely justice? Is the public wrong in asking the following questions?
• Why have Nirbhaya’s rapists not been hanged for more than seven years?
• Why were the Unnao rapists given bail?
• The Supreme Court refuses to entertain pleas for the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits – why has not one terrorist been punished?
• 27 years on, why have Rajiv Gandhi’s killers not been hanged?
• Jail Masood Azhar for nine years without hanging him and a plane is hijacked to get him out?
• Why was Yasin Malik not hanged despite boasting publicly he killed four IAF officials 29 years ago in 1990?
• Thousands of rapes every year, but how many are hanged?
• Why is the option of mercy plea for rapists present?
• Bhopal gas tragedy with thousand dead – anyone convicted?
India was named the world's most dangerous country for women in a survey of 550 global experts released by The Thomson Reuters Foundation on June 26, 2018. Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Saudi Arabia were ranked second, third, fourth and fifth. We can dunk this as Western rubbish and this does not mean India tops in the number of rapes, but what does the daily news tell you? For that matter, a bulk of the rapes are going unreported – 91.6% -- according to the Italian National Statistics Institute (ISTAT).
The government announced 12 special courts in 2012 (to be set up in 2013) for resolving cases against politicians within a year. How many cases have been resolved and how many have been convicted? Around 40% of the lawmakers in Parliament today have criminal charges against them, including some for murder and rape. They roam freely in the absence of conviction and are preferred as candidates in elections due to the win-ability factor because of their goon following.
Are we going to continue like this with around three crore cases pending in courts? Can we have compulsory narco-tests for rape accused in public, followed by quick conviction and punishment without the provision for mercy appeal – all within three to four months? Where pedophiles are to be meted out the death sentence, so should be juvenile rapists. The Centre has assured it is ready to amend the laws to bring in stringent provisions and ensure speedy justice, but wasn’t the Nirbhaya case enough to do so? Or is this merely a political statement to ward off the furore?
Finally, about the debate on education, what about lawmaker rapists like Nithyananda whose fortune is reportedly at par with Bill Gates and who has been allowed to get away? What about a former chief minister laughing off rapes by saying “bachhon se galti ho jati hai” (children make mistakes)? Is this how we take pride in our culture?
(The author commanded the Siachen Brigade during the Kargil conflict. Views expressed are personal.)