Fourteen months after three convicts in the infamous 2012 Delhi gang-rape case—Mukesh (29), Pawan Gupta (22) and Vinay Sharma (23) —filed a review petition against the verdict which awarded them death sentence, a three-judge Supreme Court bench’s rejection of their appeal on Monday comes as no surprise.
The fourth convict, Akshay Kumar Singh (31), had chosen not to file the review petition.
Another convict, a juvenile, was let off lightly after serving three years in a reformation home while a fifth died while he was under trial.
Considering that the case had caused so much public outrage due to the appalling brutality of the crime, can’t such cases be fast-tracked to pose an effective deterrent? Even the review by the apex court took an inordinately long—14 months.
The convicts, now, have the option of appealing to the apex court through a curative petition and if that is rejected, they can file a mercy petition before the President. Meanwhile, crimes against women continue unabated in the country in the absence of a strong deterrent.
The Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra while rejecting the review petition, said that the review was only if there was an error apparent, or a miscarriage of justice. Convicts cannot be allowed to re-argue the case in the guise of review of the judgment.
Jyoti Singh, later called Nirbhaya or fearless one in the media, was a 23-year-old paramedic student who was gang-raped on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012 inside a running bus in south Delhi by six persons and severely assaulted before being thrown out on the road. She succumbed to her injuries on December 29, 2012 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.
Sadly, the number of rapes reported each year in Delhi has more than tripled over the last five years. According to data released by Delhi Police, Delhi alone has seen 277 per cent hike in rape cases since the last five years and a shocking 473 per cent hike in cases pertaining to ‘outraging the modesty of women’. A total of 8,992 rape cases were reported in Delhi from January 2013 to May 2017.
Government initiatives that were taken to ensure the safety of women, such as the National Vehicle Security and Tracking System and setting up of women’s helplines have failed to bring about a measurable drop in the number of reports of rape and other sex-related crimes. At the same time, funds allocated for improving the safety of women in public transport have been under-utilised for years on end.
The silver lining is that more women are coming forward to report crimes against them now than before the Nirbhaya gang-rape came to light. The 2013 Act which was enacted soon after the ghastly incident expanded the definition of rape to include oral sex as well as the insertion of an object or any other body part into a woman’s vagina, urethra or anus.
The punishment for rape was also made stricter. The court’s discretion to give rapists a sentence lesser than the minimum of seven years was abolished. Separate punishments for repeat offenders were also introduced, including the possibility of the death sentence.
This year, by an ordinance, minors were also covered under the stringent law for capital punishment.
And in a crucial move, recognising India’s massive problem with acid attacks, the 2013 Act also introduced provisions specially criminalisingthem, and for protecting victims of these attacks.
Also, now, under sections 354A-D, stalking, voyeurism, unwanted sexual advances and touches are all specific offences – which helps ensure that these extremely dangerous behaviours can no longer be ignored or trivialised.
Yet, a lot more needs to be done apart from speeding up the process of trial. It is high time that we realize laws and policies alone cannot prevent such crimes. There is a need to bring changes in societal attitudes of people by instilling healthy thoughts of gender equality and masculinity and removing unhealthy notions of patriarchal biases among adults. Education can play a crucial part.