New Delhi: Ruchika Girhotra`s may be a particularly outrageous example, but things have been getting progressively worse for women in India. Official data shows that crimes against women are rising faster than any other crime. What is worse, investigation of anti-women offences is more tardy than most others.
In 2007, the year for which latest data is available from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), seven of the 10 fastest rising crimes in India were those against women. While the incidence of all cognizable crimes under the IPC rose by under 5% over the previous year, dowry deaths registered an increase of 15%, cruelty by husband and relatives of 14%, kidnapping and abduction of females by 13%, importation of girls by 12% and sexual harassment by 11%. Rape and molestation cases grew by a more modest 6-7%, but even that was higher than the average rate.
Despite the increasing cases of crime against women, they would appear to be not in the priority list of the investigating agencies. The NCRB data shows that investigation starts within the same year in only one out of 10 sexual harassment cases and only two out of 10 cases of molestation or cruelty by husbands and relatives. Similarly, only 3 out of 10 rapes and dowry deaths are investigated within the same year.
Delayed investigation, it need hardly be emphasized, not only frustrates the victim but also provides an opportunity to the accused to use his clout in influencing the investigation, as evident in the Ruchika case.
With one in every two brought to trial getting convicted, sexual harassment might have the highest conviction rate among the 22 major crime heads tabulated in NCRBs Crime in India 2007, but this may have something to do with the fact that sexual harassment is the least severe of all crimes committed against women with the maximum punishment being simple imprisonment for one year, or a fine, or both. For the other crimes against women, the conviction rates are lower than the 35.8% average conviction rate for all cognizable crimes under IPC.
It might be pertinent here to cite a recent study by the UK government of rape cases in the country, which shows that a majority of convictions in rapes are from admission of guilt and not because of successful trial as the delays in investigation and the social stigma related with sexual offences often force the victims to withdraw the case.
If that`s true in the UK, we can imagine how much worse the social pressures in India would be and hence how crucial it is to minimize delays in prosecuting such cases. Perhaps, the Sexual Offences (Special Courts) Bill, 2010, seeking a maximum six months` trial period for sexual offences might reduce the influence of the accused on the course of justice and hence provide a fairer trail for the victims of sexual offences.