No settlements in rape cases apex court

Lata Jain

Loopholes in the system, asking for settlements in a rape case is a spectacular error says apex court

Adopting a tough stance over recent reports of a high court judge passing an order for mediation between a rape accused and the victim, the Supreme Court on Wednesday termed such decisions as a compromise on the dignity of a woman.

Hearing an appeal filed by the Madhya Pradesh government in a rape case, the Supreme Court said any attempt of mediation between a rape victim and the perpetrator is thoroughly illegal. Courts cannot take a soft approach over such issues. It’s a spectacular error on the part of the court to promote any such mediation, the apex court said.

lata jain

Lata Jain

The Supreme Court’s decision comes just days after the Madras High Court gave bail to a man convicted of raping a minor girl to settle the case through mediation. The high court’s decision evoked sharp reactions on the social media.

Vasanth raped her for a period of 4 years. Accused of raping a woman multiple times over a period of four years, secured an acquittal from the Special Fast Track Court for rape cases, in Hyderabad. On some occasions, it was said, he forced her to comply with threats of blackmail and defamation. The prosecution alleged that over an extended period of time, Vasanth lured the victim on the pretext of providing her with a government job, and subsequently raped her.

In his ruling, the additional session’s judge who presides over the court found that the victim’s testimony was replete with “prevarications and improbabilities,” which made it unconscionable to convict the accused. In his judgment the honorable judge noted the heinous crime in the case, but executed a complete volte face, directly blaming the accuser for not speaking out, although she had been raped on multiple occasions. If she had not said a firm “no” to vasanths advances, honorable judge meant that she may well have consented to sex.

Despite the nationwide outcry following the gang rape and murder of a Delhi student on a bus in December 2012, victims continue to be blamed for the crime and their families fear the shame will jeopardize their chances of finding a husband, and their sibling’s chances.

Indian law states that rape is a ‘non-compoundable’ offence – so serious that charges cannot be dropped because perpetrator and victim reach a compromise. But according to researchers, police officers often encourage victims to ‘compromise’ with their rapists before charges are made. Judges cannot drop rape charges because the victim marries the accused, but they can reduce the sentence if he is convicted.

Ranjana shah  of the Centre for Social Research, who is doing research on these issues, says the growing number of rapes and the low conviction rates have left women feeling unprotected, while many men see themselves as beyond the law: only 28 per cent of rape cases and 20 per cent of cruelty cases against husbands are followed by convictions.

“There is no fear of being punished,” she says. “Because of the casual approach of the men in “khakhi”, it is not considered serious crime. That’s why they need a lot more sensitivity, to see it as a serious crime. Women report only one in 10 rapes, not only because of the policing, but also the huge social shame.” They fear they will be identified and their families will be stigmatized; finding a prospective husband in a wedding-obsessed society then becomes almost impossible, and the prospects of the victim’s siblings are similarly blighted.

The stark truth is that the chances of a girl living a happy and fulfilled life of her own choosing in India are poor from the outset. A United Nations report last year said India was the world’s most dangerous country in which to be born a girl – almost twice as many girls die between the ages of one and five as boys; 100 girls for every 56 boys.

Rape is an incredibly traumatic experience that can lead to lasting psychological and emotional distress for those who survive it. Victims of rape also face ostracism and ridicule. The very idea that a modern country would legally condemn a woman to live a lifetime with her attacker is bizarre, disgusting, and counterproductive. It rewards criminals for breaking the law and acts as a codified encouragement of rape: if a rapist knows he will not be punished for his actions, what is his motivation not to rape? Essentially the law incentivizes violence against young women.

only three out of every 100 rapists will ever spend even a single day in prison, according to a new analysis by RAINN of Justice Department data. The other 97 will walk free, facing no consequences for the violent felony they have committed. Because rapists tend to be serial criminals, this leaves communities across the nation at risk of predators.

The Additional Solicitor General of India, Indira Jaisingh, says the current rape laws in the country are far from adequate and the “process of justice delivery is too slow and the rate of conviction too low”.

“We have to improve the crime investigation methodology; we have to make it more scientific and quick. In India a case takes so long to conclude that witnesses get dissipated, memory frays and conviction becomes tougher.”

“There is no magic formula to deal with the problem of rape. There’s a bias that operates in the mind of decision makers – stereotyping women, blaming the victim, trying to find out if she invited the rape.”

The rapists sometimes escape with a light sentence because a judge accepts their argument that they committed the crime because they were drunk, or that they were living away from their family, or they had a family to look after, or that the accused was a high-caste man who could not rape a Dalit – low caste – woman

But campaigners say laws alone may not be able to solve the problem in a society which treats its women as “second-class citizens” and regards them inferior to men.

They say until social attitudes change and women are respected and treated as equals, the gains from the protests will be short-lived and rapists will move around scot free in the society.

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