Sluggish disposal of cases, inadequate legal aid system: How the Indian judiciary repeatedly fails women

Editor's Note: The latest National Crime Records Bureau statistics show an 83% increase in crimes against women, with as many as 39 cases reported every hour across the country. There are several thousand more instances that go unreported. And yet, such felonious acts represent only a limited view of the manner in which women in this country must face brutality. In this series of reported pieces, Firstpost examines those societal forces that, while beyond the ambit of law, have the same deleterious effect on women as criminal acts.

Read the series here.

***

Bengaluru: Rashmi (name changed), a mother of two from east Delhi, approached Jagori, a women’s rights non-governmental organisation, last week for help in a domestic violence case that she had filed against her husband two-and-a-half years ago. The lawyer she was assigned suggested that if she wanted a quick resolution, she could settle for Rs. 4 lakh a year as maintenance.

But she didn't explain the terms of the agreement clearly to Rashmi, who complained that the amount was insufficient to take care of her two children, as they were still studying and she had no other source of income.

Rashmi's story is typical. Data with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that the disposal rate of crimes against women in courts is just 11.2 percent; out of 13,42,060 cases filed, 12,04,786 are still pending.

In 2016, among metropolitan cities, Surat fared the worst, with not a single case resolved. Kolkata was second in its inability to dispose of cases with a 98.2 percent pendency rate, followed by Ahmedabad at 96.2 percent.

The percentage of cases pending with courts in Delhi is 91.8 percent, in Mumbai 94 percent and in Bengaluru 90.3 percent.

A protest condemning violence against women. AP

A protest condemning violence against women. AP

Inefficient lawyers, lax LSA in states

The data from National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) shows that between 1995, when the body was constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, and July, 2017 (22 years), among the nearly 1.6 crore people who received legal aid, only about 16 lakh were women.

Chaitali, a violence-intervention team leader at Jagori, says women have become more forthcoming in terms of reporting crimes committed against them, but crimes are indeed increasing.

NALSA was constituted to provide legal aid to individuals from weaker sections of the society. The other function was to promote amicable dispute settlement by organizing Lok Adalats. These are basically people’s courts where cases which are in the pre-litigation or pending stages, are resolved.

Jayna Kothari, lawyer and executive director of Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR), Bangalore says that every state has its own legal services authority and there are different criteria that people need to fulfill to avail these services. “Obviously, it is available for women who need it. But then again, the problem is that the lawyers who are appointed are not very efficient. So, I am not sure what kind of help they are going to provide to these women,” says Jayna. “Sometimes they don’t even show up and even if they do, they do not do a good job,” she said.

Jayna says that the legal aid authorities usually just take anyone who applies. “These lawyers are not necessarily interested in these issues. So there needs to be some quality control in that department." Jayna also points out that lawyers providing legal services do not get any benefits from the government and they probably earn as little as Rs.1,000 per case. "There is no regard, recognition or incentive for these lawyers to perform well," she adds.

Lawyers working with the legal services authority make anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000 per case depending upon the state they are practicing in and the type of case at hand.

NCRB data reveals that 32.5 percent of cases are reported under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code that relates to cruelty by the husband and his relatives. The states with the highest complaint rate in this category include West Bengal (42.3 percent), Rajasthan (39.4 percent) and Telangana (39.2 percent).

Chaitali says that 60-70 percent cases that come to them involve domestic violence. “We help women in getting in touch with the service providers, counselling and mediation if they are a victim of domestic violence,” she said.

Inactive Protection Officers

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has provisions for the appointment of protection officers to assist women who have been victims of domestic violence. These officers are entrusted with making the process of seeking legal services easier. Jayna says that protection officers have their role defined under the Act and they are crucial in referring these women to service providers.

These service providers include people who provide shelter, financial assistance, counselling and most importantly, legal aid. They ensure that the aggrieved person receives legal aid under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Maneka Gandhi, the minister of women and child development, recently observed that protection officers in several places hold multiple posts.

Jayna said that if they hold other posts, it makes it difficult for them to devote their time to assist women who are victims of domestic violence. “However, the issue I think really is that very few protection officers are appointed. If they are in such few numbers, the question is how many cases can they take up and how many women they reach out to,” she said. The other problem she says is that these protection officers are not trained very well.

Indeed, the protection officers are not very accessible to the women. On the National Commission for Women (NCW) website, the list of protection officers is available only for 13 states out of 29 states and six union territories.

Chaitali of Jagori says that the protection officers are involved in other duties and these agencies keep passing the buck saying are not assigned to discharge the duty. She says that if you call these protection officers, you would rarely be able to get through to them, or they respond by saying that they are no longer in charge.

Chaitali also rues that there are too few protection officers. She says, "If you take the example of Delhi, there would be hundreds of cases being reported but there are only 11 protection officers who respond, that I can count. How are these protection officers going to be able to cater to the needs of so many women?” she asks.

The NCW website shows that 17 protection officers have been appointed in Delhi. Among states with the highest crime rates against women, there are 49 protection officers in West Bengal, 548 in Rajasthan, while information for Telangana is unavailable.

(Angarika Gogoi is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)


Updated Date: Aug 17, 2018 22:40 PM

Also See