In Delhi’s six district courts, as many 963 cases of rape are pending as on 1 October. Should Sunday night’s gang rape case be admitted to one of these courts, it will be at least seven to eight months before the verdict is announced.
Delaying tactics by the defence, adjournments on frivolous grounds, insensitive public prosecutors and overburdened courts, say criminal lawyers, are some of the reasons why rape cases carry on for years without any hope of justice.
The Delhi High Court this week approved five fastrack courts. It’s a much needed and long overdue development that could result in rape cases being disposed of within two months, say lawyers.
Long-drawn trials, they say, is one of the reasons for low conviction rates in rape cases. “If a victim is called to depose before a court within three months of the incident, she is able to recall every detail of the crime. If the court records her statement three years later, the victim is more vulnerable to be being confused and manipulated by defence counsel during cross examination into making contradictory statements,” says Pervez Siddiqui, a criminal lawyer.
He recalls a 2002 case where a 17-year-old pregnant girl was raped, stabbed and then strangled with a rope by a man who left for dead on the JNU ridge. But the girl survived. She was found later that evening by students. It was two-and-a-half years before she got justice.
“We went through a lot of ups and downs. She remained at a shelter home during the course of the trial. And yet, there was a lot pressure on her. She was even offered money. But she remained determined. The accused was sentenced to 14 years in prison,” says Siddiqui.
There is an urgent need for all-round sensitisation of the legal machinery, he says, when it comes to dealing with a rape victim. “When a victim comes to the court, the public prosecutor often treats her as though she is just another witness. They don’t recognise her trauma. The public prosecutor must prepare her on how to face the court, on how to handle the cross-examination. This can only be done by sensitised person.”
Siddiqui mentions some changes that have been introduced in the interest of the victim. For instance, in-camera trial and refusal of bail to the accused until the victim’s statement has been recorded in court.
Sunday night’s gang-rape has brought under intense scrutiny every aspect of the enforcement and legal system whose lack of prompt and fitting action are seen as being responsible for the brazenness with which crimes, especially against women, continue to be committed.
For now, all eyes are on the Delhi Police and quickly they are able to wrap up their investigation.