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Dangers of anti-rape sentiment: Speedy, but shoddy justice

“The brutal rape and murder of a 5-year old in Vashi seemed to be an open and shut case on Wednesday when APMC police arrested a man claiming they had sufficient evidence against him. However, on Friday, the Navi Mumbai Crime Branch arrested another man and said that he was the actual culprit,” reported Mumbai Mirror on Saturday.

The story is bizarre — and frightening. A 5 year old child was found raped and killed. The parents file a police complaint and the police, based on their sniffer dog leading them to the house of 37-year-old Arun Pawar. “He had taken the girl to his house, then raped and smothered her to death, APMC police had claimed,” says the Mirror. Then after “thorough investigation, they had nabbed Dattatray Rokde, 53,” for the same crime, and released Pawar.

One can only imagine what Pawar went through. To be thought of as both a rapist and a callous murderer of a 5-year old, and subsequently to be arrested, while having nothing to do with the crime in question, must have been terribly traumatic.

Delhi gangrape protest_AFP

While quick investigation and justice is a just demand, care must be taken to ensure that those who are accused and punished are, indeed, guilty. File photo of Delhi gangrape protests. AFP

Ever since the horrific Delhi rape case, we are witnessing an increase in the media coverage of sexual assaults against women – and increase public anger against the police and other authorities. Citizens are demanding immediate justice, and the police are under pressure to deliver justice on the double.

This demand has led to the Justice Verma Committee’s report. The committee had invited suggestions from the public on what could be done to make women safe in India, many of whom had called for speedy investigation, a quick trial and firm punishment.

“I assure you that the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee will receive the highest priority of the government. The cabinet will deliberate and finalise the legal amendments that are required, which we will then introduce in the Budget session of Parliament. I see enough ground for specific changes in our penal laws that will be discussed on the floor of the house with all political parties before the law is made. The gross brutality of the Delhi incident has rightfully shocked the ethos and conscience of the country. The assertion of people's anger is good for democracy. But republican democracy does not allow extremes, we have not given to ourselves a system (of) lamp-post justice,” Ashwani Kumar, union law minister, had told The Economic Times.

The Vashi incident seemed to deliver on the speedy investigation, but the tragedy is that the investigation was obviously shoddy and resulted in the arrest and embarrassment of an innocent man.

While quick investigation and justice is a just demand, care must be taken to ensure that those who are accused and punished are, indeed, guilty.

Or we will see more Arun Pawars languishing in jail, while the perpetrators like Dattatray Rokde will roam the streets as free men.