Rahatkar: Fast track courts must be given a definite timeline

Updated: Dec 04, 2019, 11:38 IST | Hemal Ashar | Mumbai

Chairperson of the state's women's commission speaks to mid-day about how the effort to curb crimes against women can be taken forward

A sand sculpture by artist Sudarsan Pattnaik in memory of P Priyanka Reddy draws attention to the spate of crimes against women. Pic/PTI
A sand sculpture by artist Sudarsan Pattnaik in memory of P Priyanka Reddy draws attention to the spate of crimes against women. Pic/PTI

One can run out of adjectives when referring to the gang-rape and murder of the vet from Hyderabad. Brutal, horrific, outrageous, heinous, venal — one could go on and still not do justice to the barbarity.

Justice though, is key here, said Vijaya Rahatkar, chairperson of the Maharashtra State Women's Commission (MSWC). Rahatkar, who is also the national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party's women's wing and works out of her Bandra East office, said it is incumbent on all, but especially on women's organisations like hers to evolve with the times and crimes against women.

"We have to be a step ahead in using technology, advocacy and our laws to recalibrate responses if needed, and see that the entire machinery has stronger teeth and is better armed to deal with these crimes and deliver justice."

Excerpts from an interview:

How do you perceive the case?
The national outrage and anger are justified and understandable. It is unacceptable that our women continue to live and work in a climate of fear. The Commission wants answers to reports about police's questions such as: did the girl elope? And whether the family was made to wait for a long time or told to go to another police station to make a complaint. If this is true, a change must begin at police stations. The police force has its own challenges and there is great pressure but the higher-ups may want to ensure that sensitisation training is in place for juniors, who are the first line of response for citizens.

Vijaya Rahatkar
Vijaya Rahatkar

There are helpline numbers for women's safety.
We need to step on the pedal with reference to the visibility of heplines/emergency numbers. The helplines must be publicised in most public places. We will check if colleges are open to having these at entry and exit points.

Protestors are questioning why Nirbhaya's rapists are still alive?
The Supreme Court has affirmed the death penalty for three convicts in the Nirbhaya rape-murder case, and a fourth person, who also faces the death penalty, did not seek a review of the sentence. We have a legal process and things are moving according to that. Many more fast track courts are needed though.

Fast track courts sound good. Yet, what does fast track mean? Is it just a phrase to assuage the people's anger?
We need to define fast track courts. Currently, fast track does not have a time limit — it can mean six months, a year. There has to be a definite timeline. This is one way to instill confidence in people and give real meaning to fast track.

Despite outreach, sexual assaults continue with impunity.
I agree that we are seeing many cases. However, I take heart in things like the changes made through the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Amendment bill. We have much more stringent punishments than before. Under the POCSO, we have a provision where the charge sheet has to be filed within two months and the result must come in the two months after that. That means the guilty have to be punished in four months.

We also see families of proven sexual offenders defending them.
I can understand initial disbelief, but when it is proven beyond doubt that an accused is guilty, there should be no support. It may tear you apart but people must picture themselves in the place of the family that loses a daughter. I urge families of accused to see this not sympathetically, but empathetically.

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