| According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the total number of rapes in the country increased alarmingly from 24,293 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013. In Delhi, the number of cases more than doubled from 706 to 2012 to 1,636 in 2013, taking the daily average incidence to four.
By Hiranmay Karlekar
Reasons like inefficiency and corruption in police forces, their shocking indifference to crimes against women and insensitive attitude to rape victims, have been, and rightly, cited as causes and strongly condemned
The rape of a young woman employee of a multinational corporation by a taxi driver working for Uber taxi services on December 6, has once again brought the issue of women’s safety to the fore. It is being widely said, and rightly so, that the dastardly crime should not have happened particularly after the national outrage sparked by the gang rape, and subsequent death, of a young woman, christened Nirbhaya by a public deeply impressed by the courage with which she tried to fight back. The general consensus is that the measures undertaken in the wake of that outrage, like the change in the rape law and efforts to sensitise and empower the police to respond more adequately to crimes against women, have produced precious little.
If anything, the situation has become worse. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the total number of rapes in the country increased alarmingly from 24,293 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013. In Delhi, the number of cases more than doubled from 706 to 2012 to 1,636 in 2013, taking the daily average incidence to four. That the nation’s capital has emerged also as the country’s rape capital, and that scenario there is much worse than that in any other city in the country, becomes clear on recalling that, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of cases in the city with the second highest total in 2013, was Mumbai with figure of 391.
The causes of the steep increase in the occurrence of rape have been debated widely and threadbare. It reminds one of Karl Marx’s famous statement in Eleven Theses on Feuerbach, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” The point here is how to prevent rapes and, when they occur despite all efforts, to bring the culprits to justice.
The word ‘justice’ here means conviction and sentencing and not just arresting. The importance of this becomes clear on remembering that Shiv Kumar Yadav had been arrested on the charge of raping in 2011 but had been reportedly acquitted. Low conviction rates is a most alarming aspect of India’s criminal justice system. The figures for rape for the entire country are particularly shocking, having declined from 44.3 per cent in 1973 to 40.8 per cent in 2001 and 24.2 per cent in 2012. The picture in Delhi is somewhat better. At 41.5 per cent in 2012, the rate was significantly higher than the national but lower than Uttar Pradesh’s 56.4 per cent.
Reasons like inefficiency and corruption in police forces, their shocking indifference to crimes against women and insensitive attitude to rape victims, have been, and rightly, cited as causes and strongly condemned. So have been corruption and inefficiency of a section of the lower judiciary where criminal cases are first heard. But it is equally a fact that there are much fewer police personnel on the ground than required and that they are not all terribly competent in investigating, documenting and preparing cases using computer data bases and laboratory analysis and support. The number of centres for DNA analysis and comparison, vitally important for investigation, is much smaller than needed. Equally, the judiciary is overburdened with the number of judges far less than adequate.
Clearly, there is a need for a comprehensive overhaul of police forces throughout the country which would include both ensuring probity and efficiency, increasing their strengths and providing them with the right kind of scientific infrastructural support. The present case has sharply underlined the importance of this. The accused, Shiv Kumar Yadav, produced a certificate from the police which enabled him to join Uber’s taxi fleet. He, it turns out, has been a serial offender. Apart from the rape case for which he was arrested in 2011, another one had been filed in 2013. Besides the two molestation cases registered against him in 2009, he was booked under the Arms Act in 2006. He was reportedly out on bail in each of the last three cases when the rape on December 6 occurred.
Despite his record, Yadav managed to get into the Uber’s network of drivers on the basis of a certificate given to him by Delhi Police. According to the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, the certificate that Yadav provided was forged and that a probe has been ordered into it. A fresh First Information Report for forgery has been registered against Yadav and investigations are under way.
One hopes it will be checked if the signature of Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police, who is supposed to have issued the certificate, is genuine. If so, then did he not have the records checked before signing it? If he did not, then it was a serious lapse on his part. It is an even more serious matter if he knew about Yadav’s background and yet issued the certificate. It is also a serious matter if the officer tried but could not collect the information because of lack of infrastructural facilities. If the signature was forged, then is there a racket in selling certificates by corrupt policemen? Who should be held accountable in Delhi Transport Department for granting him an “All-India Tourist Permit” in May this year “after due verification of character and antecedents of the permit holder.” Who did the farce of a verification? Who issued the permit? Responsibility should be fixed in each case and condign punishment given.
There can be no doubt that Uber, which has reportedly announced the suspension of its operations in Delhi, was grossly negligent. Apart from its other lapses, its failure to axe Shiv Kumar Yadav after a complaint was received on November 26 against him for staring at a woman passenger through the rear view mirror and smiling at her in an embarrassing manner, is unpardonable.
Having said all this, one must also recognise that the growing incidence of rape is also a result of the frightening criminalisation of large segments of Indian society since the 1960s. Things have been made infinitely worse by advertisements which have the effect of projecting women as commodities and not sentient human beings, and the Indian Premier League with its scantily-clad cheerleaders sometimes making the most outrageously provocative gestures.
Unfortunately, the women’s organisations, which forcefully took up the question of women’s projection in advertisements and elsewhere in the 80s and 90s of the last century, are now in the doldrums. And the public in general seems not to bother!