The public outrage following the Unnao and Kathua rape cases is entirely justified.
Having said that, a mere display of indignity against cases of violence against women, however genuine, cannot be a substitute for strengthening the rule of law. If we want to bring about any systemic changes, we need to ask tougher questions of prospective electoral candidates about their proposals to improve the quality of policing.
Additionally, once in office, we must continue asking tough questions of both our elected representatives and the police establishments in delivering on these proposals.
If flash gatherings, protests, demonstrations and candlelight marches were enough to ensure justice for Nirbhaya, eight-year-old Asifa might have been alive and well.
Recent developments in Manipur present an interesting test case for the above assertion. Earlier this month, a survey conducted by various rights group in the state had found that since the beginning of this year, 15 rape cases have been registered with the state police.
However, what they found was that there was little in the way of justice for the survivors and their families, reports The Indian Express.
These revelations have resulted in a spate of protests by a cross-section of civil society seeking tougher anti-rape laws and a faster resolution of these cases. Besides the state’s abject failure to provide justice for these families, demonstrators have complained that the government does nothing to address these issues until the next news cycle emerges. With punitive powers resting with the state, it must act without prejudice and punish the culprits.
Following the public outrage against the findings of a survey and the recent Unnao-Kathua rape cases, the Manipur government under Chief Minister N Biren Singh has proposed setting up two investigative units in the State Police to exclusively handle cases of violence against women.
Allied with the government’s earlier decision to set up fast track courts, the government hopes that setting up special police units will expedite the investigation of such cases.
According to this Indian Express report, one police unit will be stationed in Imphal, while the other is dedicated to cases outside the State capital city. Despite the State government’s efforts to address the concerns of their citizens, establishing a mere special police unit or two is unlikely to improve policing and ensure that justice is delivered to survivors and their families.
At the very most, the police can investigate these cases thoroughly with all the legal tools at their disposal and ensure their quick resolution.
No, India cannot entirely rid itself of rape, and sometimes even the best and honest efforts of the police do not guarantee justice in a court of law. With the severe constraints the police are working under, senior officers must honestly articulate the limitations of even thorough and honest police work.
At a time when tempers are running high, the police must do an honest job of managing public expectation, a task that should ideally be taken up by our elected representatives. However, they are too busy reaping the benefits of the lopsided influence they exert on the police establishment.
Outright structural reforms in the police, which seeks to make them less pliant for their political masters, are needed. In his column for The Indian Express today, serving Indian Police Service officer Abhinav Kumar has outlines some of the measures our governments can take.
“The way forward lies in painstaking investment in police resources. We have an abysmal police-population ratio. It needs to improve in quantity and quality. We need better-trained investigators with vastly improved forensic facilities. We need programmes to protect crucial witnesses. We need a plea-bargaining system so that minor cases don’t clog up our courts. We need a much healthier judge-to-population ratio. We need tougher laws against perjury, false complaints before the police, and for obstruction of justice. We need tough action against police personnel who fail to act without fear or favour. And this action cannot be confined to the junior ranks. Their supervisory officers, including IPS officers, must be held accountable when they fail to act,” he writes.
We need to move fast, and hold our elected representatives accountable.