The gang rape of a 23-year-old student in a moving bus in Delhi has moved politicians to stir up a clamour for capital punishment for the rapists. This populist holler, however, does not leave the streets any safer, considering that a vast number of rapes go undetected, with the culprits still on the prowl.
Many of these unsolved cases are stuck at the stage where police submit something called Statement A to the magisterial court, which means the case has been established as true but not been detected.
In Mumbai alone, figures obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveal that during January 2000-January 2010, at least 116 cases remained undetected. A majority of these (28) are with the DN Nagar police station in Andheri (W), followed by 20 each with Samtanagar and Dadar police stations.
But from what NGO Praja Foundation told MiD DAY, the official figures are grossly underreported. In 2011, reveals the NGO, police were probing as many as 328 rape cases, of which 139 were a carry-over from the year before. And the police could not detect as many as 169 of these.
Praja also highlighted that in this two-year period, 890 cases of ‘outraging a woman’s modesty’ (under IPC section 509) were lodged.
The statistics acquired from the city police are equally dour. Between January 2012 and October 2012, some 114 rapes of minor girls were reported, apart from 64 rapes of women. Of these 162 cases were detected. Around 462 women were reported but cases of only 401 were detected.
‘What about victims?’
Activist Jeetendra Ghadge, who procured the RTI data, said, “Our politicians are narrating what the public wants to hear: ‘Kadi se kadi saja di jaye (Give death penalty)’. But they are not mindful of the turmoil that the victim and her parents go through. We are doing nothing in terms of providing them long-term support. This is nonsense. People in this country are unaware of the reality until their own house is on fire.”
“The police are expected to nail the accused and ensure conviction, but the irony is that 116 rapes registered between 2000 and 2010 remain undetected. While the agony of the victim continues, the rapists are still at large. The police have submitted their ‘A’ summary report in such cases, but what about justice?” asked Ghadge?
Nitai Mehta, managing trustee of Praja, said, “The above figures only indicate that there is a systemic failure. For instance, the staff crunch. The primary investigating officers in any case are police sub-inspectors, and nearly 60 percent of these posts in the city are vacant. The remaining are roped in for law and order purposes, leaving a very limited number for crime detection.” Nitai offered a solution.
“The need of the hour is to have dedicated teams to handle crimes against women, especially rape. We need to have a robust system to handle cases with sensitivity - be it domestic rapes or sexual abuse over an extended period of time - to ensure that the justice system actually delivers justice to the victim in a short time.”
Ghadge also feels that “a dedicated police section — as in the case for corruption, economic offences and cyber crime — should be formed for handling crimes against women, which should be headed by a woman IPS officer”.
Deputy commissioner of police (Zone II) Nissar Tamboli, the spokesperson for Mumbai police, said, “I do not have the data as of now. I won’t be in a position to make any comment.”
DCP (Zone XII) Praveen Kumar Patil, in whose jurisdiction Samtanagar police station with 20 undetected rapes between 2000-2010 falls, said, “I will have to verify records from police stations and find out the reason for low detection. I can assure you I will get to it.”
DCP (Zone IX) Pratap Dighavkar, who oversees DN Nagar, is out of town for a training exercise and so could not be contacted.
‘Death penalty? Really?’
Senior criminal lawyer Adik Shirodkar said, “The hue and cry in Parliament over giving death penalty to the accused is nothing but stupid. The provision under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code does not speak of death sentence, and it cannot be awarded to the accused. The maximum provision is for life term imprisonment if found guilty.”
Commenting on the poor conviction rate in rape cases, Shirodkar said, “The investigators do not follow procedure. They are lax about gathering clues with the help of doctors and forensic experts. Secondly, if the victims register the offence late, vital evidences are lost.”
According to Shirodkar, forensic evidence can be a clincher in these cases. The nail clippings, hair, clothes, saliva on the clothes of the victims can be crucial if collected shortly after the crime. “Matching DNA samples collected from the crime scene to that of the suspect’s is helpful in establishing the rapist,” he said.