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‘Frightening and heartening’, rape cases skyrocket in post-December 16 Delhi

New Delhi, Oct. 30: Official data today showed a stunning spurt in crimes against women in Delhi since the December 16 backlash, prompting some protesters and police to suggest that the unparalleled expression of rage may have emboldened many survivors to file complaints and forced police to record them.

But a disturbing element was also at play with some pointing out that the figures are alarmingly high and the law, made more stringent after the December 16 gang rape and murder of a girl in a bus, does not appear to be acting as a deterrent.

Complaints of rape went up by as much as 125 per cent, compared with the first 10 months of 2012 and that of this year.

Even when the full calendar year of 2012 is taken into account, the number of complaints in the first 10 months of this year has already surpassed that of last year. If 590 rape cases were registered in the full year of 2012, as many as 1,330 complaints have been filed till October 15, 2013.

Molestation complaints show the biggest jump at 440 per cent if the comparable 10-month period of 2012 and 2013 is considered and 291 per cent if the full year of 2012 and first 10 months of 2013 are analysed.

The data was made public today by additional solicitor-general Sidharth Luthra, a law officer of the Union government, before a three-judge bench headed by Justice G.S. Singhvi.

The court was hearing a complaint of police excesses on a group protesting alleged inaction in East Delhi after a child was gang-raped. The court agreed to constitute a special investigation team to probe the issue.

Justice Singhvi, who was hearing the petition along with Justices Shiv Kirti Singh and C. Nagappan, expressed dismay that “crime against women has been increasing everywhere, particularly during the last five years. They have been suffering silently. Only a few cases are coming up,” Justice Singhvi said.

“Every day girls travelling in trains and buses are subjected to molestation. They are now protesting because they have now become more enlightened,” he added.

Luthra submitted that right to freedom of expression and speech did not mean that people could take the law into their hands.

Justice Singhvi said: “There are untoward incidents in every institution because people think that their rights are not being protected. But nobody has a right to take law into their own hands.”

Asked about the data later, some of those who took part in the December protests against the gang rape and murder of a student in a bus, said the figures were both “frightening and heartening”.

“These numbers are both frightening as well as heartening. I believe that our efforts were not in vain and the amount of dialogue that the protests generated has led to more people speaking about these crimes openly. I see this as a positive sign and it shows the reality of rape culture in India. Now with such documented evidence, sexual offences against women cannot be brushed under the carpet any more,” said Shambhavi Saxena, a 20-year-old student of Lady Shriram College.

Saxena was picked up and allegedly beaten in Parliament Street police station during the protests.

Acid attack survivor Archana Kumar, who was on the forefront of the protests in Delhi, said: “I believe that the number of cases were always high but either the cases were not registered by the cops or the victims were too ashamed to come forward. Till our laws are stringent and courts deliver speedy justice, such crimes will be on the rise. Also, instead of treating them as crimes and dealing with them legally, the government should also initiate a process of education and empowerment.”

Suhasi Sharma, a Delhi University student, said: “First, I believe that the December 16 gang-rape protests and the convictions in the case have encouraged many more victims to step forward and register cases. What is, however, concerning is that the law hasn’t been a deterrent. The numbers are still very high.”

Rajan Bhagat, the Delhi police spokesperson, said the spurt indicated that more women were coming forward to report such incidents. “The December case has prompted many to put the social stigma syndrome behind them and boldly come out with complaints. Besides, the police are also playing a very pro-active role.”

Asked why the police were not pro-active in the past, he said: “Women are now not afraid of contacting the police. The complaints are now recorded verbatim and FIRs are filed on the basis of complaints alone without raising any issue.”

He said a special women’s cell was set up after December 16 for lodging complaints.

However, A.P. Singh, one of the defence lawyers in the December 16 case, cited possible misuse of the law to seek vengeance or to obtain money when relationships broke down. “Rape laws are often misused. The figure does not mean that all of a sudden the number of rapists has gone up in Delhi,” he said.