The spate of rape cases reported over the last few days highlights a serious deficit in security for women in India. A girl in Kerala was pushed out of a running train and brutally assaulted and raped. A 21-year-old accountant was gangraped by five men in Ghaziabad. In Fatehpur district, Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit girl resisting rape had her nose, ear and part of her hand chopped off. From Kerala to Uttar Pradesh, Amritsar to Jhansi, sexual crimes against women are on the rise. According to National Crime Records Bureau statistics, more than 53 rape cases are recorded everyday. In 2009, a total of 21,397 rape cases were reported countrywide. Given the number constitutes a fraction of the actual number of rapes that take place, the figures are a serious indictment of efforts to provide security for women.
At the root of the problem is the approach of the police towards rape cases. It has been documented that in 90% of rape cases the victim is known to the accused. This makes it all the more necessary to investigate such cases speedily. Any delay could be used by the accused to intimidate the victim and her family into silence. Unfortunately, this is the case most of the time. It is precisely because very few rape cases ever lead to conviction that the law fails to provide effective deterrence. The solution lies in implementing police reforms that provide confidence to the victims and their families to fight for justice. This can be achieved by establishing dedicated rape cells staffed mostly by policewomen, and strengthening them in terms of staff and resources where they exist. Having special fast-track courts to try rape cases across the country is a good idea.
Rape victims suffer a great deal of social stigma. It is one of the main reasons that prevent victims from reporting the crime. Trauma centres and rehabilitation services for the victims are integral to the fight against sexual violence. There is no escaping the fact that sexual crimes can be reinforced by a perverse patriarchal mindset that treats women as commodities. Gender sensitisation programmes need to be institutionalised in schools and colleges across the country to counter this trend.
In many cases victims are not even aware of the mechanism in place to seek justice. Awareness campaigns at the grassroots to educate women about what to do in threatening situations, and informing them about police procedures if sexual violence actually occurs, will greatly help. Better policing combined with speedy convictions and awareness campaigns is the answer to the problem.