Are Women In India Safer Today Than in 2012?
21 March 2020 3:35 pm
As India executes the four men convicted in the Nirbhaya murder and gang rape case, we look at the current state of safety of women and girls in India.
Written by Nayantara Raja and Fatema Diwan
The brutal gang rape of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old woman in the capital city of Delhi on 16 December 2012 shook the Indian public, sparking nation-wide protests. It eventually led to the formation of the Justice Verma Committee that called for robust criminal amendments and the corpus ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ dedicated towards implementing safety measures for women and girls. The execution of the four convicts is being symbolised by many as deterrence towards similar crimes against women and girls.
But has the situation become better for women in India? We explore what changes were brought to the Indian criminal justice system post-Nirbhaya and what still remains to be done.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013
Within a week of the incident, the central government constituted a three member committee which was headed by former Chief Justice of India, Justice J.S. Verma, to provide recommendations to amend the criminal law of the country. In one month, after considering 80,000 suggestions from legal professionals, NGOs, women’s groups, civil society and the general public, the committee came out with its report. It recommended stricter punishment and a wider definition of rape, and the addition of other gender-based crimes in the Indian Penal Code as well as reform in police, education and in management of the reported cases.
Notably, the committee ruled against recommending the death penalty even in the rarest of rare cases. Besides debunking its deterrent effect on sexual violence against women, the Committee also called it a ‘regressive step in sentencing and reformation’.
Within two months of the report being published, the Government of India passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, which amended the provisions relating to crimes against women in the Indian Penal Code 1860, Indian Evidence Act 1872, and Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. These amendments saw the addition of crimes like – acid attack, sexual harassment, voyeurism and stalking – which were previously not specified as punishable offences. They rendered the victim’s ‘character’ totally irrelevant for determining her consent and her testimony regarding lack of consent during sexual intercourse as final, if the intercourse is proven.
Crimes against women then and now
According to the National Crime Record Bureau, which records the number of crimes committed at the end of every year, there has been a 17% increase in the crime rate against women between 2012 and 2018. During the same time period, there was a 1.5% increase in the number of reported cases of rape of women and girls. While this rise in reported cases may be attributed to a higher reporting and inclusion of more offences in the penal code, studies have shown that many cases of sexual violence still remain unreported.
Low conviction rates
The conviction rate in 2018 was as low as 23% for all crimes against women and 27% specifically for rape cases. Despite setting up of fast track courts, almost 91% (more than 1.4 million) cases of crimes against women remained pending for trial at the end of 2018. Moreover, fast track courts have been proven to be slow in delivering justice.
A study by Partners for Law and Development in New Delhi found that fast track courts take an average of 8.5 months per case – more than four times the recommended time-frame.
With 1023 more fast track courts announced last year and a deadline of 60 days advised by the Home Ministry to all states to resolve cases of sexual assault, it remains to be seen if justice will be fast-tracked for women in India.
More than 90% of the Nirbhaya Fund is unspent
In November 2019, according to the data presented in the Parliament by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare that is in charge of monitoring the Nirbhaya Fund, around 89% of the funds allocated to the states have remained unspent.
No state reported spending more than 50% of the funds allocated. In Delhi, only 5% of the funds were spent. Six states and union territories have not spent a single rupee. While the centre blames the states for not effectively utilising the money and the states blame the centre for not releasing the funds in time, the corpus dedicated to women’s safety seven years ago lies almost untouched. In December 2019, Smriti Irani, the Minister of Women and Child Welfare, stated that the government had approved projects worth INR 70 billion under the Nirbhaya fund which includes setting up of more than 1,000 fast track courts.
Weak Implementation of Preventive Measures
In 2015, the Government sanctioned the One Stop Centre (OSC) Scheme to establish an OSC in every district in a phased way to help rehabilitate and rescue women in distress. Out of the 728 OSCs sanctioned, only 595 are functional. OSCs in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, that have some of the highest numbers on violence against women, either lack services or remain non-functional. In Uttar Pradesh, the Women’s helpline (181) is also starving for funds. The helpline gets around 200-300 calls each day and has helped rescue 150,000 women in the state, but workers’ salaries have not been paid since July last year.
Credit: The Tribune | Sayeed Ahmed
Narrow education programs
One of the key recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee Report was also to include comprehensive sex and sexuality education. This not only includes the primary and secondary school system but also adult literacy programmes. However, the Indian government is yet to tackle this matter holistically. The draft New Education Policy 2019 makes a very brief mention of sex education that sticks to a medico-legal perspective and leaves the scope of the same, open to interpretation. Similarly, the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s page on Adult Education makes no reference to gender-sensitized programmes.
While changes have been made in response and services for survivors, there is also a need to address violence against women through preventative measure. This involves addressing the root problems of gender-based discrimination, social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence and must be addressed by the government through much needed educational reforms.
Have the changes so far worked?
The current Chief Justice of India, S.A Bobde while taking suo moto cognizance of the matter of implementation of the provisions of the criminal amendments in December 2019 noted that “Post- Nirbhaya… many amendments were introduced in criminal law redefining the ambit of offence, providing for effective and speedy investigation and trial. Still the statistics would reveal that desired results could not be achieved.” Contrary to the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, marital rape is yet to be criminalised and security forces accused of sexual violence still enjoy legal immunity.
On the day of the execution of the four men convicted of gang rape and murder, India must introspect on what exactly has changed in terms of women safety in the country. Until then, we will continue to celebrate a victory that isn’t.
Read Amnesty International India’s statement on the death penalty here.
Featured image credit: Reuters
Nayantara Raja is the Campaigner for Gender and Identity-based Violence and Fatema Diwan is the Communications Officer at Amnesty International India.