Just a few months ago, when veteran actor Daisy Irani revealed the dark side of the world of child artistes in Bollywood, hundreds came out in support of her. It took the actor 60 years to gather the courage to narrate how she was raped at the age of six. It was a man who was termed her ‘guardian’ and was supposed to accompany her to the sets of a film the young Daisy was to shoot for.
I was conversing with one of my mentors in a car on our way home. It was at this time that one of my friends casually quipped how a section of the audience was criticising the veteran actress for having taken six decades to speak about the incident. And my mentor was quick to say, “It didn’t matter when she decided to speak up. Whenever a survivor decides to talk, it is the right time. Whether it was after six years or sixty.”
And so when the news of the Union Women and Child Development (WCD) ministry seeking a seven-year time limit for adults who were sexually abused as children to report such offences came out, it gave me a little hope for survivors where there was none.
This proposed move, which is yet to get approval from the centre, recommends that any person who was sexually assaulted as a child, be allowed to report the incident until they turn 25 years of age.
But unfortunately, the statute of limitations will expire once they cross that age (which in my personal opinion needs to change).
Speaking to The Hindustan Times, a ministry official revealed that the issue was discussed at a review meeting chaired by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi last week.
“It was decided that having a specific time limit will help ensure that evidence or samples in sexual offence cases such as rape and molestation are good enough to stand scrutiny,” the official said.
Another official added that the department is now considering a clause to have a seven-year time limit incorporated in the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offence) Act. POSCO is the special law that protects children from sexual abuse, apart from seeking the amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which specifies timelines and limitations for filing a complaint against an offence.
Under section 468 of CrPC, the stipulated time limit for reporting an offence that is punishable by a fine is six months. For offences that invite imprisonment up to one year, the reporting time limit is one year, while for offences punishable with imprisonment up to three years, the reporting time limit would be three years.
Therefore, the offences that invite punishment beyond three years in prison still don’t have a time limit specification.
And yet what seems to work against this is section 473 of the CrPC, which says a court may take consider an older case only if it is in the “interest of justice” or when the “delay” to seek redressal “has been properly explained”.
If you are now going to point towards the “interest of justice” clause in this section, you may as well be warned that WCD ministry officials have themselves revealed shocking cases.
They said despite section 473, there have been several instances in the past when law enforcement agencies failed to lodge complaints when child sexual abuse survivors tried to do it after becoming adults.
And so, the proposed move can come in handy to ensure that no survivor who gathers the courage to talk about assaults during their childhood is told to return without lodging a complaint until they turn 25.
The decision of the ministry to address this was also influenced by the complaint from a woman of Indian origin from Canada to the WCD Minister about the failure of law enforcement agencies in Chennai to lodge her complaint even though she travelled all the way to do so.
It is indeed unfortunate that even if the proposed move gets the Centre’s nod, it won’t help the woman as she has crossed the age limit of 25 years. Nonetheless, it seems like one step forward from the current lack of alternatives for survivors.
Legal gurus have spoken on the issue too. Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava who had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court in January demanding death penalty for child rapists said, “Putting a time limit that bars a survivor from lodging complaint after he/she is 25 years old will prove counterproductive. Sometimes, it takes ages for a victim who was abused as a child to come out of the trauma.”
We hope the WCD Ministry, as well as the Centre, weigh the pros and cons before making their decision on this proposal.
And while my opinion would be a lost needle in a haystack, I continue to believe: It doesn’t matter when a survivor decides to speak up. Whenever they do, is the right time–whether it is six years or sixty years–they deserve justice.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)