Is Indian legal system failing women? Status of some high profile rape cases over the years

From rape and murder of a dalit woman in Kerala to Muzaffarpur Shelter Home case

OPINION: Harsh punishment only to the guilty in Hyderabad rape and murder case People in New Delhi protest against the rape and murder of a 27-year-old woman in Hyderabad | Reuters

On Friday morning, when reports of encounter killings of all four accused in the Hyderabad veterinarian gang rape and murder emerged, the mother of Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old paramedic student who was gang-raped in a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012, said: "Today the court, the government and the Delhi police should see what example the Hyderabad police has set."

Her father said, "The family of the Hyderabad doctor will not have to wait for seven years for justice like us. We can understand the pain of her parents. At least, they got justice early. [Nirbhaya] was raped seven years ago and the accused have still not been given capital punishment. Had they [accused] been given capital punishment, the country would not have been in such anger," he told PTI. 

Seven years. And, close on the heels of the Hyderabad case came another incident—a rape survivor from Unnao was burnt to death. Has the country's legal system failed women? The recently released 2017 NCRB report, detailing crimes against women, does not paint an encouraging picture. Majority of cases under crimes against women were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’ (27.9 per cent) followed by ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ (21.7 per cent), ‘Kidnapping & Abduction of Women’ (20.5%) and ‘Rape’ (7.0 per cent). A a total of 3,59,849 cases were reported against women in 2017. 

The conviction rate for murder with rape or gang-rape is 57.9 per cent and for rape it is 32.2 per cent, as per the NCRB. 32,599 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017; Only about 18,300 cases were disposed, leaving more than 127,800 cases pending at the end of 2017, Reuters reported. Uttar Pradesh accounted for 15.6 per cent of all the crimes against women reported in the country under the Indian Penal Code as well as those reported under special laws. This translates into a crime rate of 53.2 per cent (number of crimes reported/population). Of the 3.4 lakh crimes against women reported in the country, 56,000 came from Uttar Pradesh.

Nirbaya's parents' statements raised a fresh debate Indian legal system dealt with crimes against women, with inordinate delay, and sometimes outright denial, in justice. After the Hyderabad case, public anger reached such a head that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde responded. He said justice can never be instant and loses its character when it becomes revenge. At the same time, he admitted that the recent events in the country have sparked off an old debate with new vigour, where there is no doubt that the criminal justice system must reconsider its position and attitude towards the time it takes to dispose of a case. "But I don't think justice can ever be or ought to be instant, and justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge," the CJI said.

A look at the legal status of some of the cases that shook the nation: 

Kathua rape case:

The 2018 rape and murder of an 8-year-old nomadic girl in a Kathua village had seen conviction of six people. Four months later, in October, a court in Jammu however directed the police to register an FIR against six members of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which probed the case, for allegedly torturing and coercing witnesses to give false statements. Judicial Magistrate Prem Sagar gave the direction to senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Jammu on an application by Sachin Sharma, Neeraj Sharma and Sahil Sharma, who were witnesses in the case, saying cognisable offences are made out against the six. In June this year, District and Sessions Judge Tejwinder Singh sentenced to life imprisonment the three main accused, while awarding five years in jail to three others for destruction of evidence in the case that shook the nation. The trial was shifted to Pathankot in Punjab on the order of the Supreme Court, after lawyers in Kathua attempted to prevent submission of the charge sheet in court. Day-to-day in-camera trial was held for a year.

Dalit woman rape and murder in Kerala:

A dalit woman, who hailed from a poor family in Kerala, was brutally raped, assaulted using sharp-edged weapons, before being murdered at her house in April 2016. The incident shocked the state and was widely construed to have contributed to the fall of the UDF government in state elections the next year. Muhammed Ameerul Islam, a migrant labourer from Assam, became the lone accused in the case. A court in Kochi on Tuesday found him guilty of rape and murder. In December 2017, an year and half after the incident, Islam was sentenced to death. He was found guilty under various sections of the IPC including 302 (murder), 376 (Rape) 376 (A) (causing death or causes the woman to be in persistent vegetative state while committing rape). The accused, however, was not found guilty under 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) and various sections under SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) amendment Act 2015.

Nirbhaya rape and murder:

In the December 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case of the 23-year old paramedic student, the Supreme Court in July last year dismissed review pleas of three of the four convicts, upholding their death penalty. It rejected the review pleas filed by Mukesh (30), Gupta (23) and Sharma (23), saying no grounds were made out by them for a review of the verdict. The fourth death row convict, Singh (32), did not file a review petition against the apex court's May 5, 2017 judgment. Recently, three convicts, facing gallows in the gang rape and murder case, wrote to the jail authorities, seeking withdrawal of an October 29 notification granting them seven days' time to file mercy pleas with the president against their execution. The jail authorities had informed the Nirbhaya gang rape case convicts that they had exhausted all legal remedies and were only left with the provision of filing a mercy petition against the death sentence before the president. The top court, in its 2017 verdict, upheld the capital punishment awarded to them by Delhi High Court and trial court. One of the accused in the case, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail. A juvenile, who was among the accused, was convicted by a juvenile justice board. He was released from a reformation home after serving a three-year term.

Rape and murder of legal student in Delhi:

A legal student, 25, was raped and murdered in January 1996, with Santhosh Kumar Singh, the son of a former IPS officer, coming in dock. Singh, a law student of Delhi University, was acquitted by the trial court in the case on December 3, 1999, but the Delhi High Court, on October 27, 2006, reversed the decision, holding him guilty of rape and murder and awarded him death penalty. Singh had challenged his conviction and death sentence in apex court. In October 2010, the Supreme Court upheld Singh's conviction, but commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

Unnao rape case

The 2017 case of alleged kidnapping and rape of the then minor girl by ex-BJP legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar in Unnao was transferred by the Supreme Court to a trial court in Delhi with a direction to CBI to complete the investigation within seven days. On August 2 it directed that CBI could avail additional seven days in exceptional circumstances. The court initiated 'in-camera' proceedings from September 11 at AIIMS, where she was admitted after an accident on July 28, for recording her statement. The victim and her lawyer were critically injured and two of her aunts were killed in the accident. Besides the main rape case and the accident case, three other matters transferred to Delhi are—the FIR against victim's father under Arms Act; his custodial death and a separate gang rape of the victim. The three accused in the gang rape case—Naresh Tiwari, Brijesh Yadav Singh and Shubham Singh—are all out on bail. The final arguments in the case are on under District Judge Dharmesh Sharma, who recently concluded recording statements of defence witnesses and started hearing the CBI's arguments.

Muzaffarpur Shelter Home case

Several minor girls were sexually and physically assaulted in a shelter home in Bihar's Muzaffarpur, which came to light after a TISS report was given to the Bihar government on May 26, 2018, in which former Bihar People's Party MLA Brajesh Thakur is the prime accused. The verdict in the case is likely on December 12, a month after its earlier decided date. The CBI told the special court that there was enough evidence against all the 20 accused in the case. On May 29 last year, the state government shifted the girls from the shelter home to other protection homes and on May 31 the FIR was lodged against the 11 accused in the case. The Supreme Court, on August 2, took cognisance of the case and transferred the probe to CBI on November 28. On February 7 this year, the cases were transferred from a local court in Muzaffarpur to a POCSO court at Saket district court in Delhi. The court reserved order on September 30 after final arguments by the CBI counsel and 11 accused in the case, also including ex-Bihar Social Welfare Minister and the then JD(U) leader Manju Verma, who faced flak as allegations surfaced that Thakur had links with her husband. 

-Inputs from PTI