Prolonged trials stymie justice for rape victims

The due procedure laid down by law to take away the right to life and liberty of beasts-camouflaged as-men who rape women to satiate their lust takes an interminably long time. These beasts-disguised-as-men have no qualms raping and murdering women like the 26-year-old veterinary doctor on November 27 or the innocent Nirbhaya on December 16, 2012 or an MLA like Kuldeep Singh Sengar raping a 17-year-old girl. After all, nubile women are playthings for men in a male-dominated world.

Although there is no doubt the four lorry workers raped and burnt the body of the young veterinarian, their right to life and personal liberty can only be taken away after a trial in a fast-track court, which is what our learned judges like the 47th Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde and another future CJI, Justice Dhananjaya Chandrachud assert. Undoubtedly, they are right which is why the Supreme Court set up a three-member inquiry commission to investigate the killing of the four Telangana rapists in what the police claim was an encounter.

This three-member committee comprises judges who have the reputation of being above tricks and politics so they can fix the policemen who shot dead the alleged rapists. Whether the policemen will be found guilty or innocent is left for us to guess. But there is subliminal sympathy for the policemen who delivered instant justice-through-the-bullet. How long these learned judges will take to submit their inquiry report and whether it will be made public soon after it is submitted remains to be seen. “If you say you are going to prosecute these policemen involved in an encounter, there is nothing for us to do. But if you say they are innocent then the people must know the truth," CJI Bobde observed.

CJI Sharad Bobde is entitled to his view that the country will descend into anarchy if policemen are allowed to shoot despicable men like the alleged rapists. But it was only after the brutality perpetrated on a hapless Nirbhaya that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, was amended in 2016 to allow those juveniles between the ages of 16 years and 18 years to be tried as adults in criminal courts. If they are mature enough to rape women, these boys-turned-beasts are mature enough to stand trial.

And so we have a situation where judges think along the same lines as activists who uphold the rule of law and thereby the rights of these beasts-masked-as-men to a fair trial. They conveniently forget that the young women who were raped and killed like Scarlett Keeling in Goa, Nirbhaya, and the veterinarian doctor also enjoy the same right to life and liberty guaranteed to these rapists.

But under the existing penal laws, those raped-and-killed have no rights as compared to their tormentors.

This is why activists who fight for the rights of these despicable men would do well to think of the rights of not only the 26-year-old veterinarian but also those who preceded her and were molested, raped and killed by sex-starved monsters whom the law protects by ensuring a long-and-tortuous court procedure is followed to give them the death sentence. Some of them walk away scot free as alleged drug dealer Placido Carvalho did after being acquitted by the Bombay High Court in Goa on the charge of raping and killing British teenager Scarlett Keeling while his accomplice Samson D’Souza got a measly 10 years in jail. The mother of the raped-and-killed is devastated while the Goa Police is indifferent to her plight.

Prior to the 2016 amendment of the Juvenile Justice Act, a juvenile who raped and murdered innocent women to satiate their lust could not be tried in a criminal court. This is why an accused in the Nirbhaya case walked free after being kept in a juvenile home for three years. And this is also why, beleaguered Indian women tied rakhis to the wrists of policemen who gunned down those beasts-camouflaged-as-men who allegedly tried to snatch the guns of the policemen and threw stones at them before being shot dead.

This is why the Andhra Pradesh cabinet has taken the lead in clearing a bill that awards the death penalty for cases of brutal sexual abuse of women which culminate in their death. This bill also seeks to complete the entire trial and award the sentence within 21 days of the FIR being filed.

Once this bill is passed, Andhra Pradesh will emerge as the first state in India to award the death sentence for raping women. This new bill will be called the Andhra Pradesh Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2019 which will be known as the Andhra Pradesh Disha Act in local parlance. The bill was already piloted in the Andhra Pradesh legislative assembly.

The same bill also proposes the death penalty for sexual abuse of children on the lines of the amended Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2019. The bill proposes to increase the jail term for those convicted for sexually abusing children from three to five years to ten years or life imprisonment.

Hence, Andhra Pradesh has emerged as an exemplary state for the rest of India to emulate. The cabinet has enacted the Andhra Pradesh Special Courts For Specified Crimes Against Women and Children Act, 2019 to ensure the entire investigation into such brutal crimes is finished within one week followed by the trial which should be completed within 14 days. The new bill envisages the judgment should be delivered within 21 days which is a very ambitious endeavour.

At present, rape cases get no special attention and drag on intermittently with the victim being doubly penalised for complaining to the police. Her reputation is tarnished forever which is why rape is the most heinous crime against women and the only crime which women cannot commit.

The writer holds a Ph.D in Media law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.

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