Go beyond outrage: Hyderabad horror exposes, once again, why women deserve a better deal from governments

The outrage expressed in Parliament over the Hyderabad gangrape-murder of a veterinary doctor must translate into actions that make a tangible difference to women’s safety. Some MPs like Jaya Bachchan overshot their ambit by prescribing patently illegal punishments like lynching and burning rapists alive. Instead, the focus must be on what can be done, what is lacking currently, and constant efforts to measure outcomes. Otherwise this outrage too will pass without meaningful change achieved.

Rajya Sabha member P Wilson of DMK has proposed chemical castration of convicted rapists before release from prison to deter repeat offenders. Chemical as well as surgical castration can certainly be explored as options. At least eight US states provide for chemical castration and some European countries like Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Norway permit it in some cases. Some jurisdictions reserve this punishment solely for rape of minors. In April 2011 a Delhi court – while convicting a father of repeatedly raping his minor daughter – had bemoaned the failure of Indian lawmakers to look at chemical castration.

Since then government has gone about increasing prison terms for sexual offences, even prescribing death penalty for rape of children. The latter is counterproductive, as rape could be followed by murder to destroy evidence and avoid punishment. Delayed release of data compounds the confusion over outcomes. But there is agreement that the criminal justice delivery system has reformed at a snail’s pace compared to the frequent changes in law. This is borne out by “latest” NCRB data for 2017 which indicates that in 86% of rape cases police file chargesheets but trial courts are able to dispose of only 13% of pending rape cases with a low conviction rate of only 32%. In child rape cases, the conviction rate is 34.2% and pendency is 82.1%.

Remedying this dismal state of affairs requires appointing more police officers, prosecutors and judges and improving the training and resources available to these officials. Certainty of punishment will have greater deterrent effect than extreme punishment in rare cases. Government must release timely data about crimes and the delays on the police and judicial side that increase pendency, discourage witnesses, and produce low conviction rates. Since December 2012, women have pressed hard for safer streets and freedom of movement. In the Hyderabad gangrape-murder, their voices have been heard louder. Spare us the outrage for political brownie points, produce better outcomes that keep women and girls safe.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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