There have been cases where police have failed to file charge sheets in cases of rapes even after years of FIRs being submitted, but stipulations under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 which was passed in March this year have now ensured that charge sheets are filed within 90 days of the FIR. Despite the stipulation for directions to file chargesheets, there are numerous cases languishing under the explanation of `forensic results awaited`. Many cases in the state are in fact, being in cold storage and waiting for families of affected victims to lose interest in pursuing the elusive chimera. Till the time the political leadership wakes up to institute a state of art facility where the most scientific forensic tests can be done, most samples will continue to be sent to Kolkata though it is strange that the same are not being sent to a nearer place: Guwahati. To get back to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, it came about following the recommendations of the Commission led by Justice Verma that was instituted to look at ways and measures to address rising crimes against women in the country following the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a 23 year old para medical student in New Delhi in December last year. Interestingly, the Act stipulates the punishment for rape and sexual assault cases with seven years of rigorous imprisonment of either description for 7 yrs to life and fine with the quantum of punishment increasing to 10 years for the same case of rape and sexual assault if committed by a public servant including police personnel. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 also addresses other crimes on women including stalking, eve teasing. The later has in fact come to be clubbed under sexual harassment in a public place since eve teasing is in effect a form of sexual aggression that ranges in severity from sexually suggestive remarks, brushing in public places and catcalls to outright groping. Once considered a mild social youth related behaviour, there is no doubt that the term ‘eve teasing’ in itself sets the tone for women (the ‘eve’ in question) are mere objects to be made a public spectacle of with women having to bear the brunt for it for being the ‘weaker sex’. The inclusion of this social behaviour by men against women in fact goes a long way in encouraging or giving leeway to men to ‘get away’ with ‘serious crimes’.
Meanwhile, even as strong legal and police action on crimes against women will go towards deterring such incidences in the future, what is more important is for attitudes towards women to change. Till the time, those in the police and the legal system refuse to entertain complaints or discourage women from lodging complaints related to crimes being committed against them, till the time proper investigations are made and appropriate penal codes put in the charge sheets, not much can happen. And while the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 has indeed come to the rescue of the many women in the country who have endured various crimes of a sexual nature against them, there is a strong need for social support systems and a shift in attitudes. While strong legal and police action on crimes against women will go towards deterring such incidences in the future, what is more important is for attitudes towards women to change.
In Manipur, we have instances on a regular basis where various civil society groups under the garb of social reform go for what are commonly known as ‘restaurant drives’ rounding up couples in what they describe as ‘compromising situations’ and then giving away names and details of the women. In the process, they not only violate laws of confidentiality but also commit a wrongful action by getting into a sphere where there may be strong grounds for consensual sexual activity or a harmless social meeting, which by dint of social disapproval of such meetings take place in isolation or in restaurants that supposedly give privacy. Many ‘social workers’ and public leaders have in fact also gone on record saying that crimes against women of a sexual nature are the result of provocation by women in terms of what they dress in, where they are going and with whom. Such unwarranted aspersions on the character of women in fact give the men involved in the perpetuation of such crimes the leeway to be emboldened and also get away. But rather than look at character certificates, the focus to prevent the rising sexual crimes against women is to ensure that justice is brought when they do take place without affecting the dignity of the women involved and for various stakeholders of the society to look at ways and means to ensure that men can begin to think of women as their equal. If women are accepted as the weaker lot, men will only continue to suppress them through various ways and means, including taking recourse to sexual crimes.