According to advocate Shamshad Pathan, in most rape cases, the marauders are let off in Gujarat as only 15 per cent of cases end in conviction year after year, what with files of hundreds of rape cases gathering dust, awaiting hearing or proper investigation.
Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India
SEXUAL assaults are the order of the day in Gujarat but the gang-rape of a 21-year-old poor, mentally-challenged Muslim woman by five men in Viramgam town on Independence Day—August 15—makes one once again wonder whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wealthy home state could now be nicknamed ‘the rape capital of India’ where the goons also get away with murder.
Not surprisingly, Gujarat High Court advocate Shamshad Pathan, convener of the Minorities Rights Forum, has dashed off a letter to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani demanding an impartial probe without the usual political interference as well as adequate and immediate protection and compensation for the victim.
Pathan told Clarion India that in most rape cases, the marauders were let off in Gujarat as only 15 per cent of cases ended in conviction year after year, adding that files of hundreds of rape cases were gathering dust, awaiting hearing or proper investigation.
Iqbal Masud Khan, also a Gujarat High Court advocate, said that in cases of sexual violence, the conviction rate in Gujarat and a handful of other states was less than 10 per cent, blaming it on somersaults by victims in the courtroom.
“Many criminals escape punishment because victims turn hostile. A wronged minor girl or even an adult woman sides with her rapist in a courtroom because of pressure from elders. Hence, nine out of ten accused in sexual offences are let off in Gujarat,” he explained.
Indeed, violence against women has steadily been on the rise even during the lockdown period what with several incidents of horrific sexual crimes coming to light in quick succession even this month, not to mention countless unregistered cases:
August 21: Two brothers were detained for raping a 17-year-old girl in Dayapar village of Lakhpat taluka in Kutch district after abducting her at knife-point on a motorcycle from her home in a nearby hamlet.
August 18: A 36-year-old woman of Palanpur lodged a complaint against a monk, Swami Ramratanpuri, who had been raping her for the past 18 months.
August 8: A 22-year-old woman lodged a complaint with the Ahmedabad police that a tuition teacher living near her home had raped her when she was 17 years old after promising to marry her.
August 8: A 21-year-old woman in Karjan told the police that she was blackmailed and raped by two men from Bharuch.
August 7: A 31-year-old nurse from Rajkot filed a complaint against a bank manager who raped her multiple times on the promise of marriage and forced her to abort the pregnancy when she conceived.
August 6: A 24-year-old man from Vatiav village near Surat was booked for raping his 21-year-old neighbour whom he befriended on Instagram.
August 2: A 45-year-old man was hauled up by the Gandhidham police for forcing himself on a 4-year-old girl living in his neighbourhood.
August 1: A 37-year-old married man from Rajkot was arrested for outraging the modesty of a 25-year-old student after helping her find an accommodation.
Not long ago, Pradeepsinh Jadeja, Minister of State for Home, had informed the Gujarat legislative assembly that 2,723 rape cases were registered in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state in 2018 and 2019 which amounted to three cases a day.
Ahmedabad is also not safe for women as it accounted for the highest number of 546 cases, followed by Surat (452), Rajkot (158) and Banaskantha (150). The minister, however, said that for faster investigation in rape cases, the state administration had formed a high-level committee chaired by the additional chief secretary to review the cases and their status.
The Gujarat government has been claiming that women are safe in the state and shouting it from the rooftops, but figures from its own state crime records bureau also show that the land of Mahatma Gandhi has been reporting at least one rape a day since 2014.
Also, the bureau records show that the state has reported an average of 1,200 molestation cases every year in the same period–an average of three women molested every day.
According to Padma Bhushan Dr Mallika Sarabhai, social activist and international classical dancer, Gujarat, like many states, registers only a small percentage of cases of violence against women with the result that the numbers always show less than the real figures.
“We read of at least two cases of rape a day even during covid. That means there must be four times that actually happening. Is Gujarat a safe state? Not for women,” asserts actress-choreographer Dr Sarabhai, known for her promotion of the arts as a vehicle for social change.
With three rape cases reported daily, well-known social activist Dr Jharna Pathak of Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG), told Clarion India that this was a shameful situation in Gujarat, raising concern over safety of women and girls, and adding that the police department’s poor investigation with their age-old methods of collecting evidence through oral testimonies left much to be desired what with most rape cases falling apart during cross-examination before reaching a court of law.
Thanks to the massive efforts of AWAG for months on end, colleges, companies and police stations in Gujarat started setting up sexual harassment panels and local complaints committees but Dr Pathak laments that most of these bodies are non-functional. No wonder, sinners keep laughing in their sleeves not only because cases drag on for years but also due to the silence of intellectuals who rarely air their frank opinion on atrocities against women.
As for India, rape is the fourth common crime against women in the country which witnesses 35,000 cases of sexual assaults every year.
According to the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), rape cases have doubled in the past 15 years and some 900 women face violence every day, what with 340,000 cases of atrocities against women reported last year.
As per NCRB data, one woman is raped every 15 minutes in India, whereas only one in four reported rape cases result in conviction.
Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of crimes against women, which have shot up from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,356 in 2018 – a jump of 34 per cent.
Reports from the last two months indicate that after an initial dip, violence against women has steadily been on the rise during the lockdown period. The National Commission for Women (NCW) received more than 1,000 domestic violence complaints between March 25 and April 22, 2020.
At a virtual conference hosted by the Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, experts agreed that loads of biological evidence could be collected in rape cases from both the victim and the accused. The challenge is to collect such pieces of evidence as per the right forensic procedures. In rape cases, DNA can be the most cogent scientific forensic evidence for nailing the guilty.
In sum, slow trials, haphazard unscientific investigation, failure to collect enough forensic evidence and victims’ U-turn in the courtroom at the last minute all result in a low conviction rate in rape cases in Gujarat.
As Adv. Shamshad Pathan says, conviction of a criminal is the ultimate test of a justice system, and jf the guilty are let off, all efforts on investigations go down the drain.