[This is an AHRC Article.]
The police in Maharashtra sent a 17-year-old rape survivor back to her assaulters as “bait”, not once but twice. The insensitivity of placing a minor in this situation is manifest. The girl must still have been struggling with the trauma. But, the police also went ahead and botched up the ploy by following the girl too closely the first time around and then being nowhere close the second time. The policemen thus ended up getting the minor raped again.
The legendary inefficiency and insensitivity of police forces in India has never been suspect. From beating minor suspects arrested for petty crimes to pulp in full public view to parading the accused on donkey backs, the Indian police’s deeds have stopped baffling people long ago. A majority of Indian citizens, mostly the poor and marginalized, have been compelled to accept and internalise this to the extent that they would prefer going to the local criminals and not to the police to get their issues resolved. Ask them why and they may shrug, as if indicating, what is the difference between the two in any case?
But stop and consider the police allowing a serious penal offence like rape committed on their watch; one may wonder about the absurdity of it, and even the very possibility of something like this occurring anywhere else in world, even in the most rotten criminal justice systems.
What would have been on the minds of the officers who employed this “out of the box” method of investigation into a serious crime? Did they have any clue about the guidelines put in force after the infamous Delhi gang rape and murder case in 2012? Did they know that Justice J.S. Verma has put the blame of continuing sexual assaults against women squarely with the criminal justice system?
In the final report of the Justice Verma Committee on Amendments to Criminal law, constituted in the aftermath of outrage that rocked the nation, it is observed, “… the root cause behind sexual assault upon women is a failed criminal justice process, particularly the police and delay in prosecutions.”
Maharashtra police have proved him right, once again. One does not know what else the police undertook for investigating the case, as the details are still emerging. What one can be certain about is that the process flouted all standard procedures in investigations of sexual assaults.
Take the Delhi Police’s Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) for investigation of rape cases, as per Delhi Standing Order no. 313 of 2005, of the Office of the Commisisioner of Police. The first and foremost thing it marks out is handling the victim/survivor with utmost care and sympathy and sending both the victim and the accused persons for medical examination at the earliest. Evidently, neither was Maharashtra police sensitive towards the survivor nor did it do anything to arrest the accused for having their medical examination conducted.
Another important aspect of SoP for rape investigation is securing the alleged crime scene to ensure that evidence does not get destroyed. The fact that the police decided to use the rape survivor as “bait” shows that they were aware of the crime scene and the accused persons allegedly involved. It is baffling that they went ahead with this inane ploy that could endanger the safety of the survivor rather than securing the crime scene and collecting evidence, including DNA for forensic inquiry.
If the media reports are to be believed, the idea and execution of this idea was that of Vinod Ejjapwar, a male police officer, despite the SoP of having female officers as the Investigating Officers. Though the police have promised an inquiry into his role in 20 days, the failure may not lie with him alone. There is a whole chain of failures in this case with a whole set of people responsible for specific acts of omission and commission.
For example, his superiors, flouting the norm of having a female officer in charge of the case, appointed him as Investigating Officer. Similarly, the plan of using a rape survivor, as “bait”, may have been his own genius at work, but it would have taken many other cops to execute the same nonchalantly to botch it all up. This is why one must not hope too much from the inquiry committee report, which will likely be, as usual, an attempt at whitewash the episode of investigative brilliance, rather than an opportunity for course correction.
Such glaring failures have deflated the chances of justice for rape survivors. In cases of rape survivors, the chance of a rapist being punished is today near half what it was in the 1970’s. In 1973, the year Aruna Shanbaug was attacked, the conviction rate in rape cases was 44.3% as against 27.1 % in 2013, following a little improvement from 24.2% in 2012. The only thing worse than the dreary conviction rates is the fate of the rape cases pending trial in courts. The rates were 83.4% in 2014, with a slight improvement from 85.1% in 2012.