The mass protests were so colossal in their bearing that the then UPA regime at centre was forced to take cognizance of the lacunae in the criminal prosecution system related to sexual abuse of women. It resulted in drafting and passing of new laws in the parliament with more stringent punishment for rapists and even death sentence for repeat offenders.
It was expected that stricter laws and the general detest in the society against exploitation of women would not only deter the perpetrators from committing crimes but would also compel the states to be far more prompt in not just improving policing but would also expedite investigation and prosecution in cases of rape so that justice can be delivered soon enough without delay.
Did the post-Nirbhaya rape protest change the ground reality?
Sadly enough, one and a half years after the tragic Nirbhaya case and everything that happened after that, things have not improved at all. Rapes have continued to happen unabated in spite of more stringent laws. The issue of fast track courts and their efficacy as well as their availability still remain a question mark and states continue to be as indifferent as ever before with more often than not, they are not even willing to acknowledge the problem leave alone working to solve them.
Is rape becoming a medium of vengeance?
The real issue in India is not just that of rape but the manner in which it continues to be a medium of retribution and revenge. This shockingly is not restricted to the lower echelon of the society alone. A few weeks back Trinamul Congress MP Tapas Pal was caught on tapes threatening rape on women of Opposition party mainly CPI(M).
In each of the cases of rape, most of which have been reported from Uttar Pradesh and especially in the instances of Badaun rape case or that of the shocking incident of brutal rape and murder of a middle aged widow in Lucknow it now seems that rape has become a tool of vengeance and is no more merely an act of perversion.
The perpetual denial by states
Worse, not only the law enforcement agencies have failed to prevent rape or protect women or properly prosecute perpetrators, in most cases, constituent states have been in perpetual denial or have blamed media for exposing incidents instead of rapes and atrocities on women.
Be it Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh or Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, the rhetoric of CMs have not changed from the stereotype. In many other cases, complete reluctance on the part of the police to even take cognizance of crimes. In case of the recent incident in Bangalore where a 6-year-old child was raped in school by a gym instructor, it took considerable amount of protest by the people of Bangalore to make the police go ahead and result the perpetrator.
The other issue- dealing with juvenile rapists
Related to this is the issue of juveniles involved in heinous crimes like that of rape. Reports state that more than 60% of the cases of rape have involvement of those between 16 to 18 years of age (read this report). The issue of trial of juvenile and treating them as adults for prosecution continues to remain unsolved with complete lack of clarity on how to deal with it.
In March 2014, in a ruling the Supreme Court had stated juveniles cannot be tried in regular courts. However, after the new government came into power, Minister for Women and Child development Ms Maneka Gandhi raised the issue once again and stated that juveniles accused of heinous crimes should be treated at par with adults.
Soon after Supreme Court echoed similar statement when it stated, ‘"You can't have a cut-off date for crime like you have for government jobs." (read this report) Recent reports state that the government is preparing to introduce a bill to reform the Juveniles Justice Act.
Can laws alone make a difference?
While creating new laws is just one aspect of the whole thing, the other critical aspect is its implementation. Given the reluctance and indifference on the part of states and its police force to take cognizance of crime and initiate action voluntarily, it seems the federal structure is now showing its weaknesses in dealing with critical situations.
There is perhaps an urgent need to bring some reforms and create a new architecture to deal with such brutal crimes and giving certain agencies to initiate action on their own if concerned states don't initiate actions.
India needs a new mechanism to improve the women's safety situation
In this respect whether empowering National Commission for Women with direct power by giving it the status of a civil court, can bring any effective change, would be interesting to see. But nevertheless, fact remains that India needs some new mechanism to improve the situation of safety of women in country. It cannot afford ‘status quo' any more.