Against the backdrop of a militant movement by women’s groups, civil society and the media, following the December 16, 2012, Delhi gangrape, the brutal treatment of a Danish tourist in the heart of the capital is a trenchant comment on the political and administrative establishment. The 51-year-old woman was gangraped in the heart of the city in a garden close to the Connaught place, Delhi’s nerve centre. She had lost her way to her hotel when she was accosted by a gang around 4pm, and raped for three hours inside the premises of the Railway Officers Club, barely 50 metres from the VIP entrance to Delhi’s platform no. 1 of the New Delhi Railway station during the evening rush hour. The rapists stole her belongings at knife-point before escaping.
Yet again, the Union Home Ministry headed by Sushil Kumar Shinde, in charge of Delhi’s law and order, has been found perilously wanting. It is a lesson for the fledgling AAP government as well: that the capital’s law and order cannot be left in the custody of the Union government.
Rape is endemic in India. True foreign women are easy prey, but equally vulnerable are Indian women. The myth of Mumbai being a safe city was busted the day a young photojournalist was gangraped in the deserted Shakti Mills in the heart of the city in daylight. Kolkata is equally dangerous, if not more, for its rising crime graph. The villages and towns fare no better, either.
The audacity of the perpetrators in the latest case and in countless other instances stems from the belief that one can get away with rape. That belief isn’t entirely unfounded, even after the government brought into effect stricter guidelines and harsher punishments recommended by the Justice Verma Committee. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, the current conviction rate in rapes stands at mere 24.1 per cent. A sharp decline from 44.3 per cent in 1973, even when the number of rapes reported has gone up in 2009-11, can only mean that rapists exploit the loopholes in the legal system.
What is even more disturbing is that rape tops the list of serious crimes by juveniles, followed by murder. This dangerous trend has intensified the debate on lowering the age of juvenile offenders. The National Commission for Women and Children’s demand for trying juveniles booked for serious crimes as adults under the IPC is being opposed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, NGOs and some civil society groups. There is merit in the latter’s contention that the Indian government cannot behave in a knee-jerk manner with juvenile delinquents, regardless of the gravity of the crime, because of its “obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”. The more nuanced approach for amendments to the juvenile justice system has come from the Supreme Court. It has proposed a thorough assessment of the level of maturity and understanding of a juvenile offender before he/she faces the Juvenile board for serious crimes.
In the heat of conflicting opinions on the fate of juvenile delinquents, the most important issue of the circumstances that have led a growing number of juveniles into the world of crime is forgotten. There is something terribly wrong with a society where 1,316 juveniles were booked for rape alone in 2012. That number will surely increase in the years ahead if the government feels that a few months in a remand home will reform a boy or girl. A child growing up in poverty where he/she has to battle for subsistence is vulnerable to crime. Education or even learning a trade for an honest living is a luxury for such vulnerable groups. Herein lies the crux of the dilemma in dealing with juvenile delinquents. And in that process — dealing with the deep-seated and all pervasive patriarchy at all levels of society.