The hangman’s noose may well be closing in on rapists of children below 12 years of age though the hard reality currently is that only three out of 10 men charged with raping minors are convicted.
An ordinance promulgated by the Narendra Modi government on Saturday after due Cabinet approval sets in motion the sharp deterrent against such depraved individuals.
Statistics reveal that in 2015 (the last year for which government statistics are available) as many as 5,700 people accused of raping minors were acquitted while only 2,241 were convicted.
While a clear deterrent has been created by the new ordinance, the war on rape and rapists will have to look also at this aspect of 70 per cent rapists not being brought to book evidently due to lack of evidence.
That the ordinance providing for death sentence is a reflection of the sense of revulsion and outrage in the country over the brutal rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, another in Surat town of Gujarat and a couple of similar cases elsewhere, it is for watchful citizens to ensure that the action does not end at that.
The conviction rate needs to go up substantially with greater cooperation from the public and deeper thrust by the authorities and justice needs to be meted out expeditiously.
The Modi government has simultaneously announced that for speedy trial of rape cases new fast track courts would be set up in consultation with States/Union territories and high courts.
While this is good, public interest groups will need to act as watchdogs to ensure that there is no laxity in implementation.
The States will be required to act with complete cooperation and honesty if the ordinance is not to end up as a mere document that lines the shelves.
Another welcome development is that the ordinance also prescribes that there will be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused
of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years.
In a country where those with clout peddle their influence to circumvent action all too often, there would be utmost vigilance required to ensure that the law is effectively enforced.
Significantly, after the horrific Nirbhaya gangrape in December 2012 in New Delhi which shook the nation’s conscience, and led the then Congress government of Dr Manmohan Singh to introduce the death penalty in cases where a woman either died or was left in a vegetative state after rape, there has been little follow-up action to avert subsequent incidents.
That is a danger we live with when media focus shifts to other issues and the public which was sensitized by the terrible incident tends to
look the other way.
When experts tasked to overhaul rape laws had looked into this demand following the New Delhi gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old woman, they had noted that capital punishment for rape "may not have a deterrent effect".
In the Kathua case, when Union minister for child development and women’s welfare initiated the demand for capital punishment for rapists she had advised states to improve the response of the police to sexual offences by setting up special teams, sensitise officers and punish those found to be obstructing the probe. Whether this sane advice would be heeded is anybody’s guess.
The need of the hour is not knee-jerk reactions to satisfy critics but sustained action for which not just the government but public interest groups need to swing into action in tandem.
There is also a dire need to ensure speedy justice which has been a perennial issue which remains unresolved.
The ordinance is one small step in the right direction. More steps must be taken if the deterrence against rape of minors and of others is to have proper meaning. Click Here to Read More From Kamlendra Kanwar