You are here:

Rape: The debate has to be about delivery system, not emotions

It serves the interests of the ruling classes when the delivery mechanism remains weak and ineffective. The best way to ensure it is to allow shortfalls, both in terms of quality and quantity, at the delivery end to persist. Cunning and insincere governments always resort to this tactic since it is less visible and thus less likely to attract harsh public scrutiny.

They would have any number of laws, perfectly aware that poor enforcement would render them ineffectual, and they would draw up grand policies, with clear knowledge that poor implementation would take them nowhere. It helps that the public attention only skims the surface and hardly has the patience or seriousness to dig deeper into the nitty-gritty and nuances involved in issues.

As the debate over rape rages in the country, the easiest way to handle it, from a politicians' perspective, is to talk tough and gratify the public by creating provisions for death penalty or castration for the culprits. They realise that the protesters on the streets and most of the intellectuals shouting themselves hoarse about rape are an emotional lot and emotions could be managed without difficulty with tokenism and symbolism. That suddenly the non-issue of naming of the proposed anti-rape law after the Delhi gangrape victim would crop up and be the subject of public debate is reflective of their canniness.

It would trouble them more if the angry protesters demanded bigger changes in form of a more efficient, better-equipped and adequately staffed police force or revamping of the judiciary beginning at the grassroots level. This is the delivery end and this is where laws actually lose their way and fail to help the receivers. The ruling class is clever enough to realise that the neutral and competent institutions outside their control are great levelers. They could strip them off the unique advantages they enjoy vis-a-vis ordinary masses in the democracy. The emotional public seeking quick-fix solutions provide them an escape route.

Protestors against the Delhi gangrape case. AP

It would be happy so long as no one discusses the severe shortage of manpower or infrastructure both in the police force and the judiciary. "No government wants a strong judiciary. Look at the budgetary allocation. It is less than one percent," remarked an exasperated Supreme Court bench last year while discussing the problem of infrastructure and vacancies in the judiciary. It added that the situation is so bad that it would be difficult to find competent people to fill the vacancies even if the government decided to have more courts.

Hundreds of thousands of cases are pending clearance in courts, many of them decades old. There is serious shortage of judicial staff at the lower end — some estimates reveal that the Indian judiciary is short of manpower by at least 30 percent. Compounding the problem is the quality of manpower available. It is obvious that the ruling classes have never been too serious about the problem. There’s an ulterior motive in it. It is no accident that jail sentence is rare for the biggies accused of serious crimes. And they include the politicians who are supposed to take a call on the budget and other aspects of the judiciary.

The country has 130 policemen per one lakh population while the United Nations holds that 220 per one lakh population is ideal. In more developed countries the ratio is much higher. Now, a majority of the available staff are busy performing inconsequential tasks like protecting VIPs and managing rallies etc. That makes the effective strength of police staff catering to people to negligible. The problem of understaffed, overworked police personnel has been around for long. There have been several suggestions for police reforms, including from the Supreme Court. However, successive governments, at the Centre and in the states, have shown unique determination in going slow about these.

The reason is not difficult to fathom. Politicians and the lower and middle and lower levels operate in nexus with criminals. Parties need to have their goon force since intimidation and harassment are useful political tools. A weak, demoralised police force allows them to keep the nexus alive. If the police are forced to act, then a weak judiciary ensures that nothing much happens to the culprits.

If the country is serious about looking beyond cosmetic changes, it should not help the politicians find the easy escape route by making emotional demands. They should be forced to fix the delivery system at all levels.