AWC Berlin is participating in 2020’s “16 Days” campaign by posting stories on gender-based violence to inform and inspire action. Follow the series on our blog and social media and let us know what actions you’re taking.
Editor’s Note: For our last post of the 2020 series, we’re sharing an updated version of Shweta’s post in our 2016 “16 Days” series.
Justice Deferred: Gender-Based Violence Cases in India’s Courts
by Shweta Gupta, AWC Member
DELHI, India, December 16, 2012. A twenty-three-year-old female student is brutally—and fatally—gang raped by six men. The public is outraged and vigils, marches, and protests ensue. So, what happens with this case? And what happens with cases like it? Do the victims of gender-based violence obtain the justice they seek and deserve?
The Nirbhaya case, as the 2012 Delhi case is commonly known, moved rapidly, perhaps because of its tremendous notoriety. Less than a year after the crime, the perpetrators were found guilty of rape and sentenced to death (and in the case of the lone juvenile defendant, sentenced to the maximum three years’ imprisonment). Years of appeals and stays of execution followed. Then, in March 2020—over seven years after the fatal rape—Nirbhaya’s perpetrators were brought to justice and executed.
Although the Nirbhaya case moved relatively expeditiously, this is not necessarily the norm for rape and other gender-based violence cases, and these cases remain pending for far too long. According to a recent article in The Times of India, since March 2018, the number of pending rape cases alone has increased by more than 46%. The statistics provided in the most recent report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) are disconcerting, and unfortunately, illustrate little progress since Nirbhaya.
The NCRB’s 2019 report provides that the conviction rate on rape cases is an abysmal 27.8%. More significantly, according to these same statistics, 89.5% of rape cases remain pending. The same data show similar—or worse—rates for other crimes against women. For example, for the crime of cruelty by a husband or his relatives—among the most frequently reported crimes against women under the Indian Penal Code—the conviction rate is only 14.6%, with 91.7% of cases pending. These dismal conviction and pendency rates reflect shortcomings in the judicial system.
Combatting gender-based violence calls for a multipronged approach that includes education and awareness, robust laws, and fair and efficient enforcement of those laws. In India, the legislative landscape to address crimes against women and girls is significant. The laws criminalize a litany of conduct—from rape to dowry deaths to cruelty by a husband to human trafficking, just to name a few. These laws, however, lose their efficacy if left unenforced by the courts. Quite simply, a huge backlog of cases and a low conviction rate significantly alter the intended deterrent effect of laws. Effective enforcement of laws necessitates a strong, transparent, and trusted judiciary.
The judicial system in India suffers from not only a tremendous lack of resources, resulting in a backlog of cases, but also judicial corruption. India has an extremely low judge to population ratio—nineteen judges for every one million people. In developed nations, that ratio is estimated to be fifty judges for every one million people, and in the US, it is perhaps as high as 107. In a country of over one billion people, India’s judge to population ratio simply cannot lend itself to an efficient judicial system. As for corruption (or at least the perception thereof), one survey revealed that an astounding 45% of Indians believe that the judiciary is corrupt, and 36% of respondents said they had paid a bribe to the judiciary. The perception that the judicial system only protects the rich or famous or powerful only compounds the problem of delivering justice for the survivors of gender-based violence.
In India, as in other countries, gender-based violence is woefully underreported. When survivors of gender-based violence do report a crime, and seek legal recourse and redress, they expect to be heard efficiently and fairly. But judicial inefficiency and corruption are frustrating, exhausting, and unfair to the survivors. They are further disincentives to reporting and do nothing for the pursuit of justice. On the contrary, an overburdened and corrupt judicial system has the propensity to embolden, rather than deter, the perpetrators of gender-based violence. Judicial systems need to be held accountable, so that survivors of gender-based violence can be heard.
Call to ActioN
- Share this post on your social media.
- Learn about and support organizations that focus on judicial transparency and integrity, such as the UN’s Global Judicial Integrity Network, which works to strengthen judicial integrity and prevent corruption.
- Hold judges in your community accountable. In many states in the US, for example, trial court judges (who hear gender-based violence cases) must be elected. Educate yourself about judicial elections and exercise your right to vote. Learn more about judicial elections in your state at Balletopedia.
- Support human rights causes and organizations that aim to educate and empower all genders on the issue of gender-based violence.