Hyderabad rape-and-murder case reveals social and institutional failure

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Thu, Dec 5th, 2019, 21:43:24hrs
Hyderabad rape-and-murder case reveals social and institutional failure
The headlines over the past week, sadly, have been dominated by cases of rape of murder of women across a few cities in the country. In Hyderabad, a 26-year-old veterinary doctor was raped and murdered along a highway and her body left burning. Four suspects, who come from the villages of Narayanpet district, nearly 150 km away from the site of the crime, have been arrested and are currently under 14 days police custody.

The victim was fondly remembered in remote Telangana village of Kollur where she was posted. She was the first veterinarian to be posted in the village. She first joined a local hospital as an assistant surgeon in 2017 where she worked with farmers and their livestock. The Times of India editorial on the incident and outrage –

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. n the Hyderabad gangrape-murder, the voices of women have been heard louder. Spare us the outrage for political brownie points, produce better outcomes that keep women and girls safe”.

The reaction and anger were swift with protests taking place across the country including the nations capital. For many, this was eerily reminiscent of the 2012 Nirbhaya case and her family’s long wait for justice. Since then laws have changed but conviction rates haven’t. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), violence against women increased in 2017 by 6%. Vineeta Dwivedi, Professor at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, in an op-ed for Outlook writes on law enforcement aspect –

Stricter laws in the aftermath of the 2012 Nirbhaya case have led to higher levels of reporting but not necessarily higher conviction rates or quicker investigations. While stricter laws were a welcome step in dealing with the problem, they are clearly not enough. Conviction rates have remained low and not more than 25 per cent of the reported rape cases”.

In the wake of this recent incident, the Hyderabad police issued an advisory on precautionary steps to be taken for women while travelling. The Telangana government has designated a special court for a speedy trial in the case. The track record for such a special court is that recently, a case involving the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl, a fast track court in Warangal completed the trial in 2 months where the death sentence was given to the accused.

Among elected leaders and officials, the reaction was of shock and dismay, echoing the expected rhetoric of advancing women’s safety dignity. The nature of the crime has understandably and rightfully riled up anger among citizens, including member of parliament Jaya Bachman who called for the accused to be publicly lynched; her comments have received pushback and criticism. However, there has been pushback for seeking the death penalty against the accused not just in this instance. Does the death penalty act as a deterrent against any crime? Jahnavi Sen, in a report for The Wire, writes on why the death penalty shouldn’t be sought; among the reasons is it doesn’t act as a deterrent –

For crimes of different kinds across the world, nobody has been able to conclusively say that the death penalty is an effective deterrent. The research that does exist gives mixed signals. It appears as though the call for the death penalty is more an outcome of outrage than of serious thought on what can change the prevailing situation”.

One of the reasons mention by Sen in her piece, is that laws such as the death penalty target weaker and marginalised sections of society. In this Hyderabad case, the accused were from a remote village. The report mentions a new law in Madhya Pradesh which allows the death penalty for rape if the victim/survivor is a minor. The larger point here is that there needs to be a discussion around the criminal justice system in India and how uniformly laws are applied to people from different sections of society.

According to a 2016 National Law University study, a majority of those incarcerated were from lower castes and are religious minorities. Prabha Kotiswaran, Professor of law and social justice at King’s College London offers this view on criminal laws in cases of sexual violence – “It is time to take stock of the criminal laws on sexual violence on the books and understand in a deep manner how they relate to each other. Even at a definitional level, there are glaring inconsistencies”. The criticism levied against those who call for lynching and the death penalty was echoed by the Hindustan Times editorial

But the call for lynching of offenders or castration is not the answer, which must be found within the framework of the rule of law. At a time when there is renewed public outrage, it is time to push for better public safety measures for women, quick trials, speedy sentencing, improved policing skills, and better access to the criminal justice system”.

The central government chose Hyderabad as one of eight cities for its ‘Safe City’ project. However, the project has been a non-starter with the Telangana police department taking almost a year to prepare basic proposals. An amount to the tune of Rs.282 crore was allocated to Hyderabad for the project under the Nirbhaya fund. Across the country, various local and state governments have issued calls for greater security especially at night.

However, apart from law enforcement, criminal justice, there’s also a discussion to be had on the role citizens and society play in ensuring women’s safety and dignity. A culture that is patriarchal ensures women are treated as second class citizens. Sowjanya Tamalapakula, professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, in an op-ed for the Deccan Chronicle offers this take in the wake of the Hyderabad incident –

The structural complexities of caste, class, ethnicity and gender play a vital role in sexual violence against women. In such cases, the hierarchies implicit in the social locations of the victim and the perpetrator become important to determine the response and rage of the Indian middle classes”.

More columns by Varun Sukumar