Something has broken down in society and policing: SC on rape incidents

India on 28 August 2013
Location : New Delhi, India | Source : Times of India. Image Source: Times of India

NEW DELHI: The Mumbai gang-rape and the heart-rending case of a gang-rape survivor in Haryana made the Supreme Court on Monday sternly seek explanation from the Centre and states on steps taken to formulate compensation and rehabilitation schemes for rape survivors as well as protection to witnesses in these cases.

A bench of Justices R M Lodha and Madan B Lokur said, "Something appears to have broken down in society and in the law enforcing machinery. The authorities need to explain." It issued notices to all chief secretaries of states and administrators of Union Territories asking them to detail remedial measures taken so far.

The bench also asked them to explain the schemes framed to compensate survivors of rape and gang-rape incidents and to the kin of those killed after sexual assault, in compliance with directions issued by the court in 1994 in the Delhi Domestic Working Women's Association case. It also wanted the police to provide adequate protection to rape survivors and witnesses to deter the accused from intimidating them.

These directions came on a petition filed by a dalit daily labourer, Dharampal, who narrated the pitiable tale of his family after his school-going minor daughter was gang-raped by influential persons in village Chotikalsi in Nilokhadi tehsil of Haryana.

While releasing the girl from their custody on August 6 last year, the accused threatened her that if she did not satisfy their lust every 10 days, then her parents would be killed, his counsel Colin Gonsalves informed the court drawing shock and disgust from the bench over lack of policing and enforcement of law.

"Something has seriously gone wrong in society," the bench said, referring to the rising graph of crime against women.

More shock was in store. Gonsalves narrated how the rape survivor and her family were stigmatized and ostracized by society. On coming to know of the incident, the principal of Government Girls Senior Secondary School at Nilokhadi struck the girl's name off the rolls, he said.

Less than a month later, the accused, who had raped the girl, kidnapped her mother and murdered her on September 3 last year. Her body was recovered on September 5. When Dharampal went to the police station, the station in-charge tore the complaint about the murder, the petitioner alleged while seeking security for himself and his daughter and legal assistance at state cost to fight the case in trial court.

"The petitioner and his daughter continued to reside in the village. The family members of the accused continued to pressurize them to withdraw the case and threatened that if it was not done, he too would meet the fate of his wife," Gonsalves said. The petitioner said the Haryana government paid a compensation of Rs 60,000 to the girl and Rs 3.75 lakh for the murder of Dharampal's wife.

Gonsalves drew the court's attention to the importance of providing protection to witnesses in such cases to ensure that the trials do not get derailed, resulting in acquittal of accused.

The echoes of media coverage of the Mumbai gang-rape were heard in the court. Justices Lodha and Lokur said, "In the recent past, the media has been highlighting sexual assault cases. This could be either because media is focusing more on incidents of crime against women or the incidents have in fact registered a sharp increase. It could also be because of police not enforcing law properly."

Though the petitioner highlighted a single case, the bench saw the larger issue and attempted to broaden its purview to attempt an antidote at the government's policy level by seeking explanation from chief secretaries of states and administrators of UTs, as well as from the Union government.

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