New Delhi: While many believe justice has been delivered in the Nirbhaya case with death warrants being issued against the rapists, the conviction rate in rape cases is abysmally low at 27.2 per cent which activists say is due to lapses in the criminal justice system.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 1,56,327 rape cases were on trial in 2018. Of these, trial was completed in 17,313 cases, resulting in conviction in only 4,708 cases. There was acquittal in 11,133 rape cases and discharge in 1,472 cases.
A case can be discharged before the charges are framed whereas acquittal can be done only when the trial concludes. Moreover, a total of 1,38,642 rape cases remained pending in 2018.
The conviction rate in rape cases for 2018 decreased from that during the previous year. In 2017, a conviction rate of 32.2 per cent was recorded when 5,822 rape cases resulted in conviction out of the 18,099 cases whose trial was completed during that year, the NCRB data showed.
The low conviction rate persists despite anti-rape laws being made stringent after the brutal rape and murder in 2012 of a 23-year-old paramedic student, who later came to be known as 'Nirbhaya'.
She was raped on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012 in a moving bus in south Delhi by six people, before being thrown out on the road. She died days later at a Singapore hospital.
Women activists say a complete overhaul of the judicial system is needed to ensure speedy justice to victims and survivors of sexual assault.
Vani Subramanian, from women empowerment group Saheli, said the Nirbhaya incident is not an isolated one.
Sexual assault occurs with frightening regularity in this country. We need to evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large number of men who commit these crimes," she said.
"The low conviction rate shows that perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of charges," Subramanian said.
Annie Raja, women's rights activist and CPI leader, said increasing the number of fast track courts cannot be the only solution to the low conviction rate in cases of sexual violence.
She was referring to the Centre's decision to set up 1,023 special courts for speedy trial of cases of sexual assault on women and children.
"Cases come to courts after inquiries and witness report and then only court gives its verdict," she said. "You need to sensitise the police. Even among Delhi Police personnel, you should ask how much is the awareness about the anti-rape law.
That is why we are demanding complete overhauling and judicial reforms," she said.
Raja further suggested that more budgetary allocation is required in building the infrastructure and facilities for rape cases "Why do these cases have to wait long for forensic reports? Because we have very few forensic labs in the country.
These are all systems that need to be in place to ensure time-bound justice. For that we need budgetary allocation, you need have political will and sensitivity," she said.
Activist and former National Commission for Women (NCW) chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam also believed that a complete overhaul of the judicial system was needed.
"It took seven years to get justice and there are hundreds of cases which do not evoke this kind of a response (that the Nirbhaya case got). We must have a moratorium of time," she said.
On Tuesday, a Delhi court issued death warrants against four people convicted in the Nirbhaya case and ordered that they be hanged at 7 am on January 22 in the Tihar Jail here.
Of the six convicted in the case, one died during trial and another, a juvenile at the time of the offence, was set free after serving a three-year term in a reform facility.