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Published On:Friday, March 8, 2013
Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian

Equality is impossible with the same policing system

A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women

| by Bijo Francis
Asian Human Rights Commission

( March 8, 2013, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) Statistics apart, India is not a safe place for women to live. The recent unfortunate incidents of rape reported from the national capital and from other parts of the country have only brought the gruesome reality to the fore. Gender rights groups, the media and the enlightened public that responded to these events promptly, however missed to address an important impediment that makes India a dangerous place to live for women. Critiques left off, and many are yet to appreciate, the role played by the justice institutions in the country in dealing with crime.

Equality is a promise that a state makes to each one of its subjects. Fair trial is the guarantee upon which this promise is build. In India, unfortunately neither this promise nor the guarantee exists.
Violence committed against women, or the existence of manifold discriminatory practices women in India have to deal with, at home and in public places is a direct reflection of how defective the country's justice apparatuses are. This assessment is equally true concerning discrimination and violence perpetuated against minority groups, including the Dalits.

Discrimination of all forms is a manifestation of violence, though in some instances it need not physically hurt a person. It is trite to argue that discrimination negates equality. Equality is an unachievable concept in a country where justice dispensation has serious defects.

Concerning violence committed against women, today in India, there is no possibility where a victim could make a complaint against the incident, safely. Police stations, with officers who personify violence to such extent that they are perceived as uniformed criminals, is one of the most unsafe place for a woman in the country to approach, to complain against violence committed against the person. Officers lack the very basic expertise and equipment to undertake criminal investigations.

Corruption is so widespread and common that medical doctors who are expected to examine a woman for injuries, could be literally purchased, so that not only their certificates and reports are thrown out of court during trials, but also one could get a doctor to refuse treatment to the victim. The most recent case reported from Kerala, yesterday, stands proof to the argument. A government medical doctor chased his patient out from the surgery table, since the patient refused to pay the bribe the doctor demanded. The police that intervened after the event when the public started protesting against the doctor sided with the doctor.

The nucleus upon which a criminal trial originates is the complaint filed by a victim and recorded by the police and the investigation report filed by the police in court. The charge, to be framed against the accused, depends entirely upon these two foundation stones. The conviction rate in the country, that remains at about 4 per cent is proof to the fact that there are serious defects in the criminal investigative process in the country. Without addressing this, enhancing punishment for a crime, in this context violence committed against women, would not ensure safety of women.

One of the fundamentals of punitive jurisprudence is the certainty of punishment to prevent crime, not the severity of it. Most Indian jurists, legislators, academics and other civil society actors refuse to acknowledge it. It is only unfortunate that the perpetrators know this well. Even as of today, there are hardly any sensible and consistent movements to reform the criminal justice dispensation system in India. Many that exist strive to promote rubbish like the "Kerala model" of policing.

Equality is a promise that a state makes to each one of its subjects. Fair trial is the guarantee upon which this promise is build. In India, unfortunately neither this promise nor the guarantee exists.

March 8, celebrated as the International Women's Day, has adopted “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women” as its global theme for this year. The theme, viewed in the Indian context with its failing justice apparatuses is meaningless without drastic reforms brought into the country's justice framework. The Asian Human Rights Commission expects that the civil society actors in India, most importantly its well-respected gender rights movement, will make the occasion to demand change to this unacceptable status quo.

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