Fanfare is a good way to distract attention, and the Centre is growing quite adept at proposing blameless means to tackle crimes against women. After the second blast of sound and fury over the death penalty for rapists, there is now the sexual offences (special courts) bill which will be introduced during the budget session in order to set up special courts to try sexual offences within a period of six to twelve months. Objections against such a caring proposal are bound to sound fractious and unreasonable. But it is not clear what exactly this multiplication of posts and paperwork is meant to achieve, apart from providing the state with a concerned, protective, gender-sensitive façade. There are two basic problems, or allied aspects of the same one. One is the spread and variety of crimes against women, many of which are not reported and some of which are extended over so many years that they are difficult to identify as crimes. The other is the low rate of convictions and the lightness of the penalty in many cases of conviction. Neither is likely to be affected by the mushrooming of special courts. It may be argued, by stretching things a bit, that a sure and faster disposal of cases brought to court will somehow cumulatively act as deterrent. Nothing in the laws or the Indian justice system has so far deterred sexual offenders and domestic tyrants. Special courts could hardly be invested with curative magic.
There are enough laws in the Indian code to deal with most forms of crimes against women. Amendments should focus on the gaps there, and new legislation should be turned towards the filling in the abysses, like that created by the silence on child abuse. Sexual offences are bred by social attitudes and continuing forms of social domination. The silent indulgence of society that sexual offenders against women enjoy is the result of centuries of devaluing women and of denying them their entitlements as members of society. Such attitudes permeate all strata of society, although they may be expressed differently or the social arrangements that embody them be varied. Without the growth of active social disapproval of sexual offences, accompanied by serious efforts by the police and later the courts to collect evidence, make convictions and implement the law, very little will change. There are fast track courts already, “sex related crimes” can be brought there for speedy disposal. Arrangements for in camera hearings can and should be made. The government could perhaps spend its time better by concentrating on the essentials rather than on fancy flourishes.