Deep infirmities in the? legal system

Published : Jan 29, 2010 00:00 IST

Brinda Karat: The government has a short attention span on issues relating to women and children.-R.V. MOORTHY

Brinda Karat: The government has a short attention span on issues relating to women and children.-R.V. MOORTHY

Brinda Karat: The

THE Left parties in Haryana and the All India Democratic Womens Association were among the handful of organisations that campaigned in a sustained manner for the registration of cases against S.P.S. Rathore, who was finally held guilty of molesting a teenager 19 years ago. Brinda Karat, Rajya Sabha member and vice-president, AIDWA, took the family of the victims friend to meet Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and demanded that the government reopen the case and set up a committee to look into the bureaucratic and political lapses that resulted in the denial of justice. Excerpts from an interview she gave Frontline:

What does the entire episode signify in a larger sense?

S.P.S. Rathore is a criminal and his place is in jail. His bail should be cancelled. Why hasnt the Central Bureau of Investigation asked for the cancellation of his bail when he has already been convicted for the molestation of a minor. He has been found guilty of molesting a minor and his jail sentence should be enhanced to the maximum. The entire episode indicates the deep infirmities in our legal system. It reflects the sickness in the system, which permits the use of power to subvert the processes of justice. The victim was a minor. What stands out is the use of Section 354 in this case, which guarantees two years maximum imprisonment, whereas this case is about a custodial crime against a minor.

Shockingly, in the Indian Penal Code there are no provisions for recognition of, leave alone punishment for, specifically a sexual assault against a minor unless it is rape. In other words, if a minor is sexually harassed or abused and it does not amount to rape, there is no specific law at present to deal with the different degrees of child sexual abuse. This is the most objectionable and outrageous aspect of our legal system, that in spite of the struggle of womens organisations for so many years the government has refused to include this. Unless it is rape, it is not recognised. If this is not infirmity, then what is infirmity and sickness?

During the tenure of the Congress government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao, we met him and pointed out the gaps in the legal system. He agreed to include an amendment on child sexual abuse. At the last minute, the government shelved it.

And for the last four years, a comprehensive law that includes all these aspects has been lying with the government. I moved it in the Rajya Sabha as a Private Members Bill two years ago. The governments stock answer is that they are discussing it. This is their permanent answer.

There have been a few gestures from the Central government in the aftermath of the verdict, in terms of taking a re-look at the laws pertaining to women.

The fact of the matter is that the government has a short attention span as far as issues of women and children are concerned. It is certainly not considered an important issue on the political agenda. I would like to take the statements at their face value. If they are saying they will do it, my question is if they are serious about it, when do they intend to do so? What is the time frame?

You mentioned in one of your statements that apart from the legal aspect there was a political dimension in the way the issue was handled.

Clearly, there are different governments and political parties involved and there are conflicting statements being made by different political leaders. Citizens do require to be assured that there is a sense of accountability in this entire process. It is not just a question of punishing a politician; that may or may not be possible under the law. But, certainly, the issue of political accountability to the people of this State and country is an important aspect, and also it is equally important so as to prevent political patronage to those who utilise positions of power for the exploitation of women. Therefore, we met Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, along with the victims friends parents and Jagmati Sangwan, president of the Haryana unit of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti.

On behalf of AIDWA, we suggested to the Chief Minister that he should set up an impartial committee consisting of citizens who command respect in their professions and who have the necessary expertise to look into the aspects of political patronage to Rathore. Unfortunately, he was non-committal on this. However, he did say that officers who had connived with Rathore will be put under the scanner. That would be good. But at the end of the day, we know that officers also act according to the direct or indirect support of the political dispensation of that time.

Some people argue that many institutions, such as the National or State Commissions for Women and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, have been created, yet there is hardly any improvement in the overall sensitivity on issues concerning women and children.

These institutions are there for making policy. They have made some very important recommendations, which are relevant in the present case as well. However, governments do not pay sufficient attention or respect to their recommendations. The issue of women, of children, of violence and assault against women is not considered as an issue that is on the political agenda.

Of late, there has been an increase in the manifestation of what we call public outrage, and it takes a lot of public outrage to evoke some response from the political system in place.

A lot of public opinion is helped by media coverage. It is not because of any initiative from official quarters. The government has been responding mainly because of sustained media coverage. In the post-Emergency period, the media played an important role in taking up issues such as bride-burning. But, unfortunately, the efforts of the media are not sustained. One thing is certain: the helplessness of a victim. Why should it be that in a civilised society, the victim of a crime should feel so helpless that she should be forced to commit suicide? That helplessness and loneliness of the victim, in this case, too, happened in spite of the courageous efforts of her friend and her family.

Generally speaking, the helplessness of a victim is something that should sear the soul of any civilised society because it is such an all-round failure that we have no social, legal or political support systems, and sometimes not even the family support system. How do we deal with this feeling of helplessness? We also need to ask as to what kind of cultures we need to develop in our approaches, in our public life, in our public discourse, to stop vilifying the victim, to stop pointing fingers at the victim. Instead of helping and supporting a victim, the opposite happens.

If the outrage by the public helps other affected persons to come forward, it is a positive step. This means that the outrage has to be expressed when the incident happens and in support of the victim, rather than sympathy when she has been forced to destroy herself. Unfortunately, that part is usually left to womens organisations. AIDWA had first raised the issue of abetment to suicide, which is now being considered. Issues of chain snatching are sometimes considered more important as election issues than that of the increasing violence against women.

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