Home » Blog » Day 6 of 16: The Laws Are Here … Where Is The Justice?

Day 6 of 16: The Laws Are Here … Where Is The Justice?

by Shweta Gupta, AWC Berlin member

It was a sensational case that forcefully thrust gender-based violence – this time, in India – once again into the spotlight, and placed a renewed call to end gender-based violence (GBV).  It was December 16, 2012, in Delhi, India. A 23-year old female student was brutally gang raped by six men.  Her body was left on the side of a road to die, and indeed, she later died.  People were outraged by the horrific events, resulting in vigils, marches, and protests.  Less than a year after the crime, in September, 2013, the perpetrators were brought to justice:  found guilty of rape and sentenced to death (and in the case of the lone juvenile, sentenced to the maximum three years’ imprisonment).  To date, their executions have been stayed, pending review by India’s highest court – the Supreme Court.

This horrific case came to relatively quick legal end at the trial level, having been placed on a “fast track,” but also perhaps because of its notoriety and the immense scrutiny surrounding it.  But this does not appear to be the norm. According to a recent article, more than 22 million cases (presumably inclusive of GBV cases) are pending in the lower courts. Equally startling, more than 93% of rape cases still await trial – this despite the existence of “fast-track” courts that hear GBV cases.  Moreover, data shows that of the rape cases reported, though suspects were charged in 95.4% of the cases, the conviction rate nationally was only 27.1%.  Similarly, though suspects were charged in 90.5% of cases in other crimes against women (excluding rape), the conviction rate was only 22.4%.  These conviction rates are even lower in some of the more impoverished states.  These rates reflect shortcomings in the judicial system, not a lack of legislation.

UN Women Violence against Women Facts & Figures: In 2012, a study conducted in New Delhi found that 92 per cent of women reported having experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime.

Indeed, India’s legislators are trying to do their part. In the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi rape case, Parliament swiftly responded.  In March 2013, just three months from the date of the crime (and before the perpetrators were even adjudicated), the Indian Parliament amended the Indian Penal Code, and passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013. The amended law broadened the definition of rape, and criminalized certain other categories of prevalent, violent conduct against women that previously had not been made unlawful, including stalking, acid violence, disrobing, and voyeurism.  Even prior to the amendments to the Criminal Law in 2013, the Indian legislature passed federal legislation addressing GBV, including the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act of 1983, and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005.

Taken collectively, the issue of GBV is addressed in the laws and arguably, in a relatively progressive way considering the patriarchal nature of Indian society, and the underpinning societal and cultural norms.  So what’s wrong?

It goes without saying that combating GBV calls for a multi-pronged approach that includes education and awareness, robust laws, and fair and efficient enforcement of those laws.  It is is not only important to educate women, it is also imperative to educate and sensitize men.  Men dominate law enforcement and the judiciary.  Judges bring their experiences to the bench, with the hope that those experiences will foster informed decision-making.  But in an historically patriarchal society, like India, it is fair to ponder the life experiences of the judges who hear these cases, specifically their experiences with gender roles and the treatment of women.  In a study on India’s Protection from Domestic Violence Law, one legal advocate opined that “‘Judges are not convinced that violence is violence and not a common occurrence in every family. They feel overburdened by the cases and domestic violence adds to their burden. Domestic violence is seen as part of life and not as an aberration like brutal killing or rape.’”

Beyond education, of course, a society must have strong laws outlawing GVB.  However, without proper enforcement by law enforcement and just interpretation by the courts, such laws – no matter how strong – will not do what laws are designed to do:  deter unlawful conduct.  Those laws need to be interpreted and enforced.  To this end, a strong, transparent, and trusted judiciary is critical.

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 – 18 judges for every 1 million people.  In developed nations, that ratio is estimated to be 50 judges for every 1 million people, and in the U.S., it is perhaps as high as 107.  In a country of over 1 billion people, that 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.  To be sure, this is not just a problem in India.  In that same survey, these numbers for respondents in the United States were 42% and 15%, respectively.  The perception that the judicial system only protects the rich or famous or powerful only compounds the problem of delivering justice for the victims of GBV.

In India, as in other countries, GBV is woefully underreported. When victims of GBV do report and seek legal recourse and redress, they expect to be heard efficiently and fairly.  But judicial inefficiency and corruption is frustrating, exhausting, and unfair to the victims.  It is a further disincentive to reporting, and it does nothing for the pursuit of justice. On the contrary, an over-burdened and corrupt judicial system has the propensity to embolden, rather than deter, the perpetrators of GBV.  Judicial systems need to be held accountable, so that victims of gender-based violence can be heard.


  1. Share this post.
  2. Learn about and support organizations that focus on judicial transparency and integrity.  For example, the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime recently embarked on a mission to create a Global Judicial Integrity Network, which is expected to launch in 2017.
  3. Do your part in your communities to hold judges accountable. For example, for those living in the U.S., or expecting to repatriate back to the U.S., or who have friends and families in the U.S., did you know that in many states, trial court judges (who hear gender-based violence cases) are subject to contested, uncontested or retention elections?  Educate yourselves about those elections and if you are able, exercise your right to vote.
  4. Support human rights causes and organizations that aim to educate and empower all genders on the issue of gender-based violence.

The AWC Berlin participates in the 16-Day-Campaign against Gender-Based-Violence.  Each day, we highlight an aspect of GBV to raise awareness and call on our membership to take one small action to fight against violence against women.

Please share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *