Police must be sensitized in dealing with sexual assault survivors
A number of amendments were introduced in criminal law in 2013 following the rape and murder case in Delhi in December 2012. Prominent among these were widening the definition of rape, enhancing the punishment for rape and introducing provisions for penalizing the lackadaisical attitude of police in taking cognizance of offences against women. The changes were proposed by the J.S Verma Committee, which sought to make justice accessible to women victims.
But how much more needs to be done can be seen from the furore over gang rape in two incidents in which the police refused to register the first information reports. These crimes triggered an outcry from the public, the media, and even institutions like the National Commission for Women, Delhi Commission for Women, the national commissions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and the National Human Rights Commission.
In the first incident, reported in April, a woman in Hapur district, Uttar Pradesh, attempted self-immolation following police inaction in spite of repeated complaints of gang-rape. It was reported that she had been subjected to this violence since 2016. Neither the superintendent of police’s office nor the local police station took any action. In the second case, a Dalit woman was gang raped in the same month in Alwar, Rajasthan. Her complaint was not filed for a week after the crime. In this case, too, the survivor had approached the local police station and the SP’s office but was turned away repeatedly because the Lok Sabha elections were scheduled for that week in the state.
Both incidents expose the apathy and the insensitivity of the police towards the survivors. Such indifference exists in spite of a specific legal provision pushing for accountability and calling for punitive action against any officer found negligent in carrying out his/her duties. Section 166A(c) of the Indian Penal Code makes it an offence for any public servant to “fail to record any information given to him under sub-section (1) of Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), in relation to cognizable offence punishable under... Section 376D [and numerous other crimes against women].”
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative filed RTI applications in all states/UTs to understand how extensively Section 166A(c) of the IPC was being used. Information was sought on the following issues — the number of complaints received against police personnel for their refusal to register an FIR and the number of FIRs registered along with the details of the FIR. Only 25 districts/departments in eight states — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam, Goa, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Telangana — and the Union territory of Delhi responded.
Out of these, only seven districts/departments of four states — Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Telangana — provided the FIR numbers. It is not known whether IPC S. 166A(c) was invoked in all the seven cases or not as the copy of FIRs could not be retrieved through the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems. Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh rejected the RTI application, citing such vague reasons as the “application was not in public interest”, “information is too large” and “information sought is classified as conclusion”. Manipur and Tamil Nadu did not reply to the RTI application. The rest of the states and UTs said that either no such case had ever been registered or no information was available at that time.
The ministry of home affairs recognized the trend of the non-registration of FIRs, issuing an advisory to all states and UTs on their failure to record information under Section 154(1) of the CrPC in cases of sexual offences against women which is punishable under IPC S. 166A(c). The advisory reiterated that the registration of an FIR is obligatory in such cases even if the case does not fall under the jurisdiction of a particular police station. It also asked the states and UTs to conduct refresher courses for police personnel to increase their awareness in such matters.
This advisory should encourage the director generals of police of all states/UTs to issue a standing order to all district heads. The district heads should inform duty officers in all the police stations to not wait for the permission of the station house officer to register FIRs in cases of sexual offences.
Police officers also need to be sensitized in their conduct with survivors of sexual violence. Rude and indifferent behaviour on the part of the police leads to secondary victimization of the survivor. This is defined by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as “victimization that occurs not as a result of criminal act but through the response of institutions like police”. This was visible in the Hapur gang rape case.
Retraining of personnel is critical if police departments are to recognize and then remove prejudice among personnel. Survivors need to feel at ease while approaching a police station. Otherwise, public faith in the criminal justice system would be further eroded.