Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Framework for containing "Crime against Women"

The New Year is knocking on the doors and despite many negative occurrences in the past year, hopeful signs lie in store for the coming year. The hope stems from the fact that the youth has risen and they have shown appreciable calmness and intelligence despite being provoked by the politicians and the police. While the effort is commendable, unless some meaningful gains are achieved in this "fight against crime committed on women" (you may refer to these gains as “baby steps”, “low-hanging fruits”, “quick wins” etc.), it may end up being just another “flash in the pan”. 

Let us try to arrive at the solution of limiting such crimes or inhibiting the growth of such criminals. Without claiming or sounding like an expert on this topic, I think we can divide the life-cycle of a criminal into two parts i.e. pre-crime and post-crime. For the sake of simplicity, we would limit the criminal life-cycle till the final sentence has been awarded. Also, we would focus on “crime against women” though I feel this framework can be extended to other types of crime as well. As outlined in the exhibit below, the post-crime part can be further sub-divided into three stages, Excused, Pro and Trial.  

So, while proposing solutions to deal with the existing situation, I have tried to devise them in the backdrop of these stages of the life-cycle. These are some of my ideas focused on dealing with such criminal activities:

The Prevention Stage: There is a common adage, “evil should be nipped in the bud” and the stakeholders at this stage i.e. society, educational institutes, parents, workplace, media etc. should precisely focus on it. Some of the steps in this direction could be:  
  •  “Sex education” with a focus on “moral education” should be the area of focus for the schools, the educationists as well as the government at large. Even adult education initiatives should incorporate “sex education” in their curriculum.  In the past the educational materials contained in the prescribed books have been found inappropriate  so cultural aspects should be considered while developing relevant content
  • Institutions including workplaces should focus on creating awareness about “women related crimes” as well as having mechanism in place to deal with them e.g. reporting procedures should be clearly laid out, nodal people should be assigned to whom complaints can be filed etc. “Passing sexist comments”, especially by those in positions of responsibility, should be made a punishable crime (if it is not already so) and dealt with severely and swiftly.
  •  While rape cases have been widely reported by the media especially the print but the way they have been reported, has been highly unsatisfactory. The focus is more on detailing the event which is largely aimed at voyeuristic pleasure. On occasions, even the identities of the victims have been revealed. Thus the focus should be more on reporting the facts in a manner that the society becomes aware of such crimes and the concerned authorities are forced to take actions.
  • While Indian parents have been very proactive in applying restrictions on the girl child, the focus should now be on educating the boy on respecting the fairer sex both within and outside the home. Even the behavior meted out to females of the house needs to be revisited. A more reinvigorated focus on "female education" would further enhance the stature of the female in the society. 

The Excused Stage: As outlined in the revolutionary novel “The Tipping Point” as well, empirical evidences show that success in small crimes encourages criminals to attempt more grievous violations. It was not a surprise that the bus involved in the “ghastly rape incidence” in Delhi had been booked for various violations in the past. Thus in order to restore the rule of law, its of utmost importance that administrators deal with crimes like eve teasing, without-ticket travel, traffic rule violations, petty thefts, cheating in exams etc. with iron hands. Following steps would be needed in order to deal effectively with the first post-crime step:
  • It won’t be possible to address the issue with such low police presence (As per estimates, India has 0.96 police personnel per 1,000 people v/s the UN recommendation of 2.2 per 1000). Thus it goes without saying that the numbers need to go up drastically without any further delay. Usage of technological tools CCTVs too would help increase the police bandwidth.
  • The gender mix of the police force needs to be reassessed as according to some estimates, female make up less than 10 per cent of total force.  Also, the distribution of the police force has to be geared towards protection of the citizens rather than the ever increasing list of VVVVIPs.
  • Increased policing has its shortfalls as well so the onus should be on the police and the civil society to create awareness about the rules so that ignorance doesn’t lead to violations or police doesn’t try to fleece the law-abiding citizens.
  • Focus should be on remedial measures for those who have committed such crimes like counseling, community service, informing the parents, maintaining databases etc., rather than sending them to the gallows.

The Pro-Stage: In case major crimes like murder, rape etc. are committed, the focus should be on crime management which would include dealing with the guilty as well as providing a helping hand to the victim. A few much needed steps are as follows: 
  • The first step towards efficient crime management has to include reporting of the crime. A centralized reporting system e.g. a helpline needs to be set up and managed efficiently. Staffs handling the helpline should be trained so that proper details are captured which would allow the police to take action at the earliest.
  • As far as reporting the FIRs is concerned, it needs to be moved away from the present system where the reporting is at the mercy of those stationed at the police station. The victims should be able to file complaints online wherein they provide basic details including contact details, type of crime, accused etc. The onus will now be on the police to get further details pertaining to the incidence.
  • “Not registering the FIR” should be made a punishable offence. CCTVs should be installed across police stations which would help capture such lapses.
  • Counseling should be immediately provided to the victim as well as their family members so that they are able to overcome the trauma. The data captured by the helpline can be used to provide timely help. It goes without saying that such teams should have adequate female representation.
  • Up-skilling the police force is a much needed step as the existing skills doesn't allow them to properly investigate the matter.

The Trial Stage: A speedy and fair trial is the need of the hour. While a botched up investigation may defeat the purpose, which is usually the case in India but the Indian legal system too deserves it fair share of blame. A few suggestions on this front would be:  
  • As is the case with the police force, the numbers of lawyers/judges in India are inadequate given the size of the population. Steps like setting up a commission for hiring them or establishing more law universities should be initiated at the earliest.
  • These crimes need to be fast-tracked or “time-bound” so that they get due attention. 
  • In my opinion, presently there isn’t a strong enough case for capital punishment or chemical castration but steps like longer jail-term, displaying their details on publicly available databases etc. can be considered.

     Given the complexity of the situation, the focus has to be on finding end-to-end solutions and ensure that the entire set up is working in unison.  

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