Irony dies a thousand deaths.
On March 4, 2015—the day MPs were outraged about a documentary on the December 16 gang rape—Baishnab Parida, BJD MP from Odisha in the Rajya Sabha, was informed by the Ministry of Home Affairs that the conviction rate in rape cases between 2011 and 2013 was barely 25 per cent. In effect, offenders in three of four cases escape conviction.
The tragic irony is that this horrific state of affairs triggered no outrage, not even a discussion—not on March 4 or the subsequent days.
The numbers illuminate the magnitude of horror. Between 2011 and 2013, across India, 82,386 cases of rape were registered—that would be 75 cases per day. Charge sheets were filed in 70,105 cases and convictions clinched in barely 12,736 cases. In this period, 112,110 persons were arrested and 93,217 persons charge sheeted. Of these only 17,437—or one in five charge sheeted—were convicted. Conviction rates in 14 states and Union Territories was less than the national average of 27 per cent. Nagaland—now in the news for lynching of a rapist—tops rate of conviction at 80-plus per cent and Andhra Pradesh scores a consistent 11-plus per cent.
The state of denial is best represented in answers given to Members of Parliament. In 2003, the Government of India was asked why the rate of conviction in rape cases was so poor. The answer: “Non-availability of witnesses, insufficient evidence, delays and witnesses turning hostile.” In 2015, Parida asked the same question. The answer: “Poor investigation, insufficient evidence, long delays, witnesses turning hostile.”
Nothing changed in over a decade. The horror show continues.
In December 2014—two years after the gang rape and nearly two years after amendments to the criminal law—Nishikant Dubey, BJP MP from Godda in Jharkhand, asked about the status of pending rape cases. The Ministry for Law and Judiciary revealed that 31,386 cases were pending in various high courts—the Allahabad High Court tops with 10,740 cases followed by Madhya Pradesh with 4,602 cases. Law Minister Sadananda Gowda also revealed that as many as 332 cases were pending in the Supreme Court—including the December 16 gang rape, which was pending for nearly a year awaiting a bench to adjudge the sentence awarded in the lower court and ratified by the high court.
What can be more horrific than horror? Data on pending cases from the lower courts! Here goes the dirty laundry chart.
2009 -> 69,533 cases;
2013-> 95,731 cases.
The worst states: West Bengal with 14,174 pending cases, Maharashtra with 13,388 cases and Madhya Pradesh with 8,425 cases.
And why are so many cases pending or rather why is pendency unattended? This is a question that has been repeatedly asked by members in Parliament. The answers are revealing.
• In March 2013, BJP MP Radha Mohan Singh asked the question. The answer of the UPA regime: “The government has requested the Chief Justice of the High Courts to constitute the fast-track courts for speedy trial of pending rape cases in district/subordinate courts having a high pendency.”
• In December 2014, Dubey asked the question again. The answer of the NDA regime: “Government has written to the Chief Justices of the High Courts to constitute Fast-track Courts (FTCs) for speedy trial of the pending rape cases in district/subordinate courts having a high pendency of such cases and to monitor the progress of these cases.”
It doesn’t matter which regime it is, the sloth is systemic. And this is a country which had a woman as Prime Minister for 15 years and 15 women as chief ministers.
The denial of justice to the victims of sexual assaults is but one symptom of entrenched patriarchy—including among some women—in society. The impact is visible in politics and in governance. That a rapist, lawyers and many others in politics and public life get away with verbal assaults only illustrates the point.
The etymology of the problem is societal. India’s daughters are denied the basic instruments of negotiation to survive and thrive. This is represented in the lower literacy rate (82 per cent for men versus 64 for women) and higher drop-out rate—yes, sanitation is an issue, but is it the only reason why daughters are pulled out of school? There is much talk about political empowerment—even if half-baked—but there is little talk about economic empowerment. Only one in four women have a bank account, only 44 per cent own cellphones compared to 86 per cent men and less than a fourth are participating in the labour force—of the 29.5 million persons employed in the organised sector, only six million or a fifth are women. Why does India rank 127 on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index and 135 on human development index?
That a society which worships goddesses can be so persistently callous about half its population is the ultimate irony.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change