Shubhangi Gehlot, [Law student at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat]
The Indian Constitution framework dignifies women with utmost support by providing equal rights and inserting special provisions wherein the State is empowered to make special provision for women and children to lessen their vulnerability and protect their basic human rights. The fact that women are neglected equality in various forms substantiates the need for Article 15(3) besides just having Article 14 as the epitome of guaranteeing gender equality.
This simply points towards the need for gender sensitization as part of setting equality in the Indian Criminal Justice system especially for socially traumatized women who are rape victims. The demand for gender sensitization as a predominant feature of equality can be justified by its definition which is, "the awareness informed propensity to behave in a manner which is sensitive to gender justice and gender equality issues." Hence, making it a crucial factor in the area of Criminal Justice including police, prisons, judiciary and legal aid.
According to India Justice Report, 2019 which ranked the various Indian States based on the above four main pillars of the Criminal Justice System and also included factors such as the capacity to deliver justice, allocation of human resources, budgets, and infrastructure etc. The extreme scathing results were found, with Uttar Pradesh referred to as the worst State in delivering justice to the public followed by the States of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. Moreover, The 2020 Rule of Law Index acknowledged India’s rank as 69 out of 128 countries directly pointing to its low position in terms of order and security and civil justice.
This indeed highlights the need for mandatory sensitisation in the process of delivering justice especially to the female victims due to the country's low rank of 95 out of 129 countries under the SDG Gender Index, a global index to measure gender equality.
Why just rape victims?
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2019, on average, 88 rapes take place every day in India with a brazenly low conviction rate of 27.8%. One of the common reasons why criminals don’t get punished is the poor police investigation. Besides the familial pressure and hostility of witnesses, the policing department plays an incumbent and wanton role in the act of victims avoiding to file an F.I.R about rape especially in the process of filing complaint, counselling and court hearings.
The non-acceptable delay in the execution of the Supreme Court’s decision of the death penalty in Nirbhaya’s case was a prime example of insufficiency, both in the number of special courts for speedy trials and sensitised nature of police personnel. Hence, a set of “complete overhauling and judicial reforms” is necessary to implement.
Are the laws provided always implemented? The very deeply rooted patriarchal nature and stigmatisation around the victim cause more mental trauma in the institutions like courts, police stations and hospitals other than society’s judgemental pressure.
Section 164A of the Criminal Procedural Code being the heart of every Criminal case provides provision for medical examination of the rape victim and assigns a statutory duty upon the police officer to send the woman making the complaint of rape to a public-registered medical practitioner within twenty-four hours from the time of receiving information on the commission of such an offence. Despite clear description stated by posing responsibility to police and medical practitioner, the process is often delayed like in the Hathras Rape case where allegedly the F.I.R was impeded to be filed and Forensic examination of the victim was held up to 8 days from the commission of the offence. This kind of sheer neglect of knowledge about the same by the police directs towards the understanding of 'extreme insensitivity' of the complete set-up.
Similarly, according to a Supreme Court’s judgement, the difference in the amount of compensation provided to several victims of the case based on media trials, display the callous nature of the complete Justice system ranging from the investigation process to the courtroom.
Representation of women
The prolonged irony in the entire Criminal Justice System is that in the majority of sexual offences, women are the object of victims whereas they lag in the case of female representation in police departments or judiciary. This confirms the staggering scenario of maintaining equality in opportunities, representation and providing justice. With a meagre number of women police personnel constituting just 8.98 per cent of the police force across India and the presence of just 2 women judges in the Supreme Court and 78 women judges in various High Courts, the system itself proves to be unjust and insensitive in dispensing justice.
The notion of women judges' significant and unlikely better quality of decision-making and parting justice on an International level gives rise to an affirmative assumption of bringing rightful and sensitised change in the Indian criminal justice system.
Despite several provisions to protect the rape victim from concealment of her name to mandatory counselling by a specialist, still their risk of humiliation and feeling of disbelief against her throughout the police investigation and courtroom hearings. Evidently, the entire system needs “gender sensitization training” rather than just increasing the number of judges, police officials, forensic labs, counselling specialists etc. There is a need for more well equipped and gender sensitized centres that can implement the social responsibility towards rape victims showing more empathy rather than sympathy.
The support of Government and political will is equivalently important in framing specific policies to regulate the disciplined implementation of lawful procedure and execute modern approaches like setting up special vocational programmes, improved psychological and medical training for counsellors etc. Lastly, the Supreme Court needs to acknowledge and address the lack of gender sensitization in the entire Criminal Justice System including the Judicial proceedings as confession can be the first step towards generating change.