The gangrape on a moving bus in the Capital, which finally led to the death of the 23-year-old victim, has served to turn the focus on rape and the punishment meted out to offenders generally.

This is perhaps because the basic genre of the act which led to the death of a budding life was not only uncivilised, to put it mildly, but the physical atrocities which accompanied this particular case were in a class of their own, as far as rapes and their consequences go. To borrow a legal expression, this was a case which can be classified as being among the “rarest of the rare.”

Not surprisingly, the nation’s attention has been narrowed down to the prevention of such acts and beefing up the legal facilities which deal with such a crime, not to speak of the policing arrangements associated with it. No less a person than the Prime Minister, while addressing the recent National Development Council meeting, promised the people that the law “will deal with them (the specific culprits) expeditiously,” and that the Government was considering changing the law to provide for a stronger deterrent.

Political overtones

More pointedly, the Government has already set up a committee, headed by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma “to look into possible amendments to criminal law to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment to those accused of ‘sexual assault of extreme nature against women.’”

There is no doubt that, in this instance at least, the results will not take long in coming, not only because of the terrible nature of the crime committed but also because of the political overtones which the incident has already generated — the debate on whether there should be a special session of Parliament to discuss the issue being a case in point. There can be no justification for Parliament not according to it a very special priority in its schedule of business, quite irrespective of the political fallout.

Police reform

No amount of tinkering with the structure of the law to prevent crimes against women will bear real fruit, unless such change is accompanied by a drastic scaling-up in the functioning of the “limb of the law,” that is, the police.

A couple of junior policemen have reportedly been suspended for dereliction of duty on that night. One would have imagined that some senior officers, too, should have been pulled up, for, after all, the buck stops with them and not with the subalterns.

This is perhaps what is meant by the “further steps and reforms” — suggested by the UN Secretary-General — which are necessary “to deter such crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.” In our country, lurking behind every policeman is a politician.

In fact, the political class as a whole should make no mistake that it is on trial before the court of the nation, and that, unless the politicians can get their act together and provide more effective leadership, the unsatisfactory state of affairs regarding corruption generally in every walk of life will only get worse.

(This article was published on January 2, 2013)
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