In spite of tightening measures and sharper awareness, the conviction rate in rape cases still remains at an abysmal low in India. Recommendations by women’s groups and the law commission about necessary changes in the laws against rape have been under consideration for some time now. The recent Supreme Court ruling simplifying the procedure of identification by the victim is an important decision, and may, in some cases, help in swift and sure conviction. According to the ruling, the victim’s identification of the accused in court should be considered adequate evidence, without the usual corroboration of an identification parade before appearance in court, especially if the victim has already seen the accused several times. The weight of the evidence of identification in court without a preceding identification parade, however, would be a matter for the court to decide. Such a ruling is intended to counter the difficulties of conviction induced by having to produce “proof beyond doubt”. But whether the new practice creates another loophole or not will have to be seen. The stakes involved in conviction are high, and, ironically, the combined impact of the anti-rape provisions and laws of evidence goes against the victim. Rape being the deepest personal violation possible, the victim is already traumatized by the event. Her psychological condition is an overwhelmingly important factor. Uncertainty and fear, and simple confusion, on part of the victim is an additional hurdle on the way to proof beyond doubt.
The most significant aspect of the recent ruling, therefore, is the suggestion that evidence, at least the evidence of identification, be treated on a case by case basis. But it also means that the police must be especially vigilant about locating the criminals. In spite of a perceptible and welcome change among the judiciary regarding its approach to crimes against women, the police’s attitude leaves much to be desired. The court has to tread a razor’s edge in any case. A confused victim may make an honest mistake. Conviction for rape is not something that can be carried easily through life, even though that is nothing compared to the suffering of the victim. The social and psychological dimensions of a crime of this nature make convictions rare, for, in order to avoid injustice, the law, with the best of intentions, often ends up being unfair to the woman. And this too at a time when perceptions about crimes against women are gradually changing, and even the law is beginning to change. The ruling about identification may help, but the anti-rape provisions must be honed further.