No one misses the chance to feel virtuous, least of all the police. Figures given by the National Crime Records Bureau have made them feel puffed — strangely enough, because only 3.5 per cent of the 2.5 lakh persons against whom cases for molestation were lodged last year have been convicted. The fault for this, the police have claimed, lies with the complainants. They either withdraw the cases, or do not appear for follow-up, or even refuse to identify in court the very men against whom they complained. Carried away by virtuous feeling, the police have added that this allows the perpetrators to go free, primed to molest the next victim who comes their way.
Glibness comes with the confidence that the system will never change. The law takes years to move: a girl molested in her teenage years may have to withdraw the case in exasperation and bitterness in her twenties. The constant rounds of lawyers and court, court dates that disrupt normal life, the indignity of answering questions about dress and conduct, the sense of repeated violation after complaining about the first one are enough to put anyone off. Added to this is pure fear in many cases, where the police are unable to, or uninterested in, affording protection to the complainant, particularly if the accused is a local thug, associated either with political bosses or businessmen. And are the police always innocent of pressuring women to withdraw their cases? The maximum penalty in a molestation case is imprisonment for two years, while the molester can also be let off with just a fine. Nothing could better expose the institutional attitude to the violation of women’s dignity and personhood — and no better source for women’s fear need be looked for. Given the social disparagement that a complaint against molestation evokes, it is amazing that, after all this, women have the faith in justice to complain at all. What, the police might be asked, is the establishment doing in return?