INDIA: Reforms without honesty
March 19, 2013
INDIA: Reforms without honesty
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) appreciates the proposed reforms to the criminal law in India - Penal Code, 1860; Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, and the Evidence Act, 1872. Amendments to the three legislations, collectively known as the Criminal Major Acts, partially address some of the pitfalls in India's criminal law architecture with regard to sexual offences.
The draft text of the proposed amendments, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2003 is available here. In a broad sweep, the government is attempting to address anomalies in the definitions of crime and the perennial complaint against the police: that they often refuse to register crimes. Once the amendment comes into force, it will be an offence for the police to refuse registering complaints relating to sexual offences. However, the law as well as procedures post amendment will still fail to address how a complaint against the police will be handled to ensure impartiality in investigation.
The best deterrent against crime is certainty, not severity of punishment. So, a fundamental question: what is the certainty of punishment for crime in India?
The only source for reasonable data regarding conviction rates in India is the National Crime Records Bureau. The conviction rate of the year 2011 for sexual offences, according to the latest data available publically with the Bureau, is around 27 percent. Understandably, this had no deterrence to such crime. Data available with the Bureau shows that, from 1971 to 2011, there is a 873.3 percent increase in rape cases in the country.
Rates of sexual offence will not fall, as long as the country suffers from unprofessional policing. The police is the most corrupt and inefficient state agency, indifferent to the needs of a fast-developing nation, unfit to serve a democracy. Human rights organisations like the AHRC have repeatedly held that there are serious and fundamental faults in the functioning of police in India.
The police commit crimes in high numbers when compared to the total number of cases the agency is required to investigate. According to the latest official government records, i.e. varnished figures, out of close to three million cases investigated by the police, the police was accused of crimes in at least 60,000 occasions, out of which 11,500 cases were registered against police officers. Only about 50 cases out of this ended in convictions.
The lack of independence and inability to investigate crimes has a direct bearing not only upon crimes committed by the citizens, but also on the investigation of crimes against police officers. An investigating agency that inherently lacks honesty must not be trusted with the security of the people. Indifference by the government in addressing this has led to the police being reduced to a demoralised force, often euphemistically referred to as 'criminals in uniform' in India.
Unfortunately in the national debate about sexual offences and the alarming increase in crimes committed against women in the country, a debate on the capacity of the law enforcement agencies to deal with such crime is least discussed. Those who argue that increasing the gravity of punishment will reduce crime in India are ignorant to the facts, and unfortunately join a dishonest government, indifferent to the pathetic state of policing in India, in reforming nothing.
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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