It was quite fast. The trial and sentencing of the accused in the December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder case in a fast-track court took seven months from start to finish and, going by the usual standards of the justice process in this country, this can be seen as a sign of progress. Neither was there any shilly-shallying about the verdict: the four accused on trial have been sentenced to death by hanging. The judge’s order elaborates the reasoning behind the court’s decision to consider this among the ‘rarest of rare’ cases for which capital punishment can be invoked. The reasoning includes the rape of a helpless girl by six men, brutal torture, murder, the men’s attitude — reportedly their “hair-raising, beastly and unparalleled behaviour” — as well as the general perception of society, which is considered a factor in determining the ‘rarest of rare’. In its pace and clarity, the fast-track court has set an example, but it is still only one step forward. Seven months may be too long for a case of sexual violence. For one, any conviction, whether or not it culminates in a death sentence, will go through a period of to-ing and fro-ing, through appeals and other procedural business. For justice to mean anything, to register in the minds of the public as well as those of potential criminals, the process must be short and sharp. Else it is pointless to hope for deterrence. This case in Delhi became symbolic, it is true, but it has to be ensured that the non-symbolic, everyday cases of rape coming to the courts are also given equal attention. Had even half the cases of violence against women that have been brought to court been dispatched with speed, it would have made some difference to the present bleak scene.
But speed is not the whole of it, of course. The real point here is the conviction. The shameful lack of convictions in rape cases in India seems to suggest that Indians love a rapist. That may not be entirely true; perhaps only the police love them, with a little bit of help from the occasional local political leader. In the majority of cases it is the shoddy investigation by the police, the poor evidence-gathering, that leads to acquittals. In that context, the conclusion of this case has succeeded in sending a strong message, something that has become urgent in an environment that seems hostile to women. But it is a message for the police too. Justice cannot be served without a proper investigation and exhaustive evidence.