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People angry with criminal justice system: Ranjana Kumari

Mar 11, 2013

Ranjana Kumari, a human rights activist and Director of the New Delhi based Center for Social Research, tells Ashok Kumar that Integrity of a woman should be the responsibility of whole society and not just police.

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The entire criminal justice system is so tardy and slow in delivering that it takes years for it to take the guilty to the book.  This has made people very angry.

On one hand, the number of gruesome rapes is growing with each passing day and on the other, systems are failing. This has angered people across the country and forced them to stage protests. The anger of the public has led the government to set up the Justice Verma commission as a quick response in the direction of overhauling the system and make it deliver more efficiently.

What the Verma commission has presented is a total departure from the understanding of sexual crime and sexual assault.

The way existing laws defines rape is very inadequate. The whole idea of a woman having right over her body and sexuality was reestablished by the report which said that if the woman is violated, be in the public place or in the bedroom, and if there is no consent (from the woman), it should be treated as a violation of her bodily integrity, which is a grave crime.

We have been shying away from the core fundamental principle that a woman has right over her own body and sexuality. It is the first right which a woman should actually have, if she is an empowered woman, and it is in relation to this fact and the Verma Commission report is trying to bring in a core perspective change.

Secondly, the whole idea of treating some crimes like eve teasing and acid throwing as soft crimes has been brought into the framework of sexual offence. And, then the second departure is about increasing the punishment for all kinds of sexual crimes. Life imprisonment, which is just 12 years, will now be interpreted as last day of the convict’s life in jail and thus highlight the severity of the crime.

Now, the law says that if the victim of a sexual crime dies, it amounts to murder and can lead to capital punishment which has given rise to a big debate about what kind of punishment should be meted out to the culprit. I personally believe that the entire life in jail should be stringent enough punishment, something which Verma Commission has also recommended.

A third very important fact mentioned in the Verma Commission report is about the need for systemic reforms. The report has identified failures in the governance system which is the biggest challenge. There is an urgent need for governance of reforms including the autonomy of the police.

Another issue is the impunity with which a lot of people including the men in uniform and the politicians are getting away despite committing several sexual crimes. We hope that when the debate starts in Parliament, these issues will be taken up.

The Verma Commission is also talking about improvement in the criminal justice system by introducing fast track courts. They also have prescribed punishment to the police personnel who are reluctant to register an FIR. It has been noticed by us that there is a huge amount of problems for a victim registering a rape case.

These are the issues which are very critical for bringing justice to the victim of a sexual crime. It is extremely important that our system wakes up to the call.

Even hospitals are totally insensitive in relation to sexual crimes when it comes to handling the patient.  We are looking at sexual assault laws being changed, criminal justice system being strengthened and the police being made gender sensitive. We are also looking at the society to change its mindset and mentality and stop treating women as just the objects of sexual gratification.

The integrity of a woman should become the responsibility of the whole society and not just the police or the criminal justice system. In the whole system, police is the most important factor as it here that the case gets registered and the investigation begins. Sadly, most of the cases fall flat before the scrutiny of the courts in the absence of ample evidence which is primarily the responsibility of the police. (As told to Ashok Kumar/OneWorld South Asia)

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