Conviction in only 5% of sexual harassment cases in state
“Sexual harassment is happening more frequently, but such crimes will not be dealt with unless the state sets up a mechanism to tackle these crimes in a better manner.”- Feminist on the losing. These are now exposed by there own departments/agencies. Still they are asking for setting up a mechanism to tackle these crimes in a better manner
Mumbai: Passing lewd comments and making inappropriate gestures go largely unpunished in Maharashtra, if the figures of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) are any indication. An abysmal 5% of sexual harassment cases decided in Maharashtra last year resulted in the accused being convicted, way below the all-India average of 52 %.
Women it seems are forced to live with catcalls as a way of life, said lawyers and activists who work with women victims. They said that lodging a police complaint itself is often a Herculean task for those in distress.
The road to conviction is long and winding, given a variety of factors, like police apathy, social stigma, an overburdened judicial system, concerns for the safety of witnesses and victims and tiresome procedures that see victims giving up half-way. A senior Maharashtra police officer also said that better forensics and police-prosecutor links would help. Finally, some experts expressed scepticism about the high conviction rates in other states and the all-India average. They said maybe other cases, like rape, were listed under sexual harassment, definitions for crimes differed or even that figures were fudged.
Cases of sexual harassment, which include eve-teasing on the streets, are filed under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, where the accused is booked for uttering a word or committing a gesture or act that insults the modesty of a woman.
The state’s conviction rate for sexual harassment cases decided in 2010 pales when compared to the rates in states like Uttar Pradesh (76%), Punjab (52%) or Kerala (30%), according to the NCRB.
Interestingly, Maharashtra saw the second-highest number of FIRs filed for sexual harassment in 2010. Andhra Pradesh had 4,562 FIRs, while Mahrashtra had 1,180. In Mumbai alone, 138 FIRs were filed. Howeveractivists said this was no indication of actual instances, as most cases are not reported. Incidentally, AP’s conviction rate in 2010 was way ahead of Maharashtra’s at 35%.
“The fact that 1,180 women in Maharashtra suffered eve teasing is itself a very high number. Many cases go unreported and the real numbers are much higher,” said Sonya Gill of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. “The incidence of eve teasing and sexual harassment is happening more frequently, but such crimes will not be dealt with unless the state sets up a mechanism to tackle these crimes in a better manner.’
Both societal and systemic reasons are to blame for the poor reporting as well as conviction rates. Mihir Desai, of the voluntary organisation India Centre for Human Rights and Law, one of the experts sceptical about other states outdoing Maharashtra by such a huge margin, said concerns at various level need addressing. “Recording and conviction of crimes such as eve teasing depends on how sensitive the police are to such incidents. What is perceived as eve teasing by a woman may not be recorded if the policeman doesn’t perceive it as such,” he said.
Advocate Flavia Agnes, who works closely with women victims of violence, said the process of fighting sexual harassment is daunting and victims often give up the fight midway. She recalled how two women who were molested outside a Juhu five-star hotel on New Year’s eve in 2007 preferred to drop the charges. “The case could take one to two years to conclude and there is often great difficulty in producing evidence. The public too doesn’t come forward to become witnesses,” pointed out Agnes.
The state government is waking up to the reality of poor convictions. A committee was set up under the joint secretary, home department, in May to look into the overall trend of few convictions in the state. They studied other states, such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, to understand why their conviction rates were more impressive. “There were several factors in other states which aided better conviction rates. For instance, there was better forensic infrastructure and more liaisons between public prosecutors and the police,” said J Supekar of the state CID (crime), who was part of the five-member committee. Judicial pendency in Maharashtra too is higher than many other states, which means cases drags on for years.