Infamous gangrape could be just a flash in the pan

As the chorus to put into effect stronger deterrents for rapists grows stronger, one would be shocked to discover that in reality, scores of rape cases still remain pending in courts across the Capital .

According to the latest data, as of October, a good 963 rape cases were yet to be brought to their logical conclusion, as their trial dragged on in six lower courts.

Women protestors holding placard
Women protesters hold placard to protest against crimes like rape.

Though the Delhi High Court has commissioned five fast track courts to provide timely justice to victims of sexual assault, legal experts suggest that these 963 cases cannot be disposed of even in two years.

HC writ ignored

What is striking about these instances of drawn-out trial is the fact that they are the result of a blatant contravention of certain guidelines laid down by the Delhi High Court for quicker justice by various agencies.

For example, court sources say many cases are at the last stage of trial but their rulings have been put on hold because of a delay in getting medical evidence.

“Forensic evidence constitutes vital evidence in rape cases. It becomes useless if not preserved, but in most rape cases, the police and hospitals fail to do so as they don’t follow the guidelines set up by the high court,” a source said.

In a 2008 order, the Delhi High Court had said that the concerned station house officer (SHO) of the area where such an incident has taken place is obligated to immediately inform the Delhi Legal Service Authority (DLSA), which would then depute a social worker to provide counselling and legal aid to the victim and his/her family within a week of the commission of the offence.

But, statistics alone would explain how the directive has been ignored.

Out of the 618 cases registered this year, the police have informed the DLSA in only 72 cases. According to sources, in 2011 and 2010, the DLSA was informed in only 49 and 22 of the 572 and 507 rape cases, respectively.

The hospitals are no better. The high court had stipulated strict guidelines for central, Delhi government and MCD hospitals, as also the court prosecutors, to follow while interacting with rape victims, but to no avail.

Another act of disobedience that often leads to the loss of crucial forensic evidence is the fact that most government hospitals don’t keep sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits, which consist of a set of items used by medical personnel for preserving physical evidence following a sexual assault, and the availability of which is one of the HC’s directives.

Sensitisation

The court had also stated that rape cases should be personally supervised by the assistant commissioner of police; a rule blatantly disobeyed. In reality, the investigation into such cases is headed by officials of the rank of additional sub-inspector or sub-inspector.

Women protestors holding placards
Women protesters hold placards asking for death sentence for the rapists.

Lawyers blame both the prosecution and defence for resorting to dilly-dallying tactics that cause a delay in trial.

Senior advocate Aman Lekhi pointed out the hostility of the system as the main reason behind the delay. “The system needs to be sensitised towards rape victims. The reluctance of victims to open up before the court is also a factor,” he said.

Noted criminal lawyer K.K. Manan attributed the police’s aimless probing and inefficient Forensic Science Laboratory reports as major delaying factors. “The long legal proceedings in these cases create mental agony for the victims and their family and they tend to give up after a point of time.”

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