Nirbhaya’s parents and the people of India waited seven long years for justice. On March 20, 2020, the court hung the four convicts of the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case. As we currently speak of life-altering events, this 2012 case is certainly one to go down in Indian history. A horrifying incident that led to a nationwide movement, women’s safety has become a prime issue in India. Still, it is crucial to know if the government has taken any steps in supporting this cause. Have there been any law changes or government-led initiatives to ensure women’s security?
Following the attacks, many organizations criticized the Indian government to take appropriate action. This included the United Nations Entity of Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women. Within six days, the Central government appointed a judicial committee to review the criminal laws. This included issues such as ambiguity over case process, conflict areas and maximum punishment. The committee formulated a report with possible amendments to better tackle sexual assault cases. They also accepted petitions from lawyers, NGOs and women’s rights groups. The judicial committee submitted their report within the month and cabinet ministers approved 90% of the suggestions to ordinance. This ordinance formed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 also known as the Nirbhaya Act. The Act overlooked a plethora of offenses including rape, sexual harassment, acid attacks, voyeurism and stalking.
Many criticized the amendments. It failed to criminalize offenses including marital rape and amending the age of consent. People said the amendments are gender-biased since they protect only women against crimes. Nevertheless, this Act was one of the most concrete steps taken by the Indian government in fighting sexual violence.
Fast Track Courts
In the year 2000, the Central Government established 1734 fast-track courts in India. At the time, there were over 30 million pending cases in courts across the country. In doing so, the government aimed to clear long-pending proceedings and conduct critical cases efficiently. However by 2005 only 80 of these courts were established due to lack of execution, only 80% of these courts were established by 2005. By 2011, less than 1200 courts were fully functional. There was a high number of vacancies for judges, the highest in Gujarat with 794 vacancies. Moreover, the Central Government ceased financial assistance by 2011 and assigned responsibility to state governments. Consequently, states such as Haryana and Chhattisgarh decided to discontinue the FTC scheme. Other FTC’s experienced an overload of pending cases. The bureaucratic misconduct of this scheme made it counterproductive of its aim.
In December 2012, the Delhi High Court transferred the Nirbhaya case to a fast-track court. Even though it was an open-and-shut case, the FTC took 9 months to deliver the verdict. Since this case gained considerable media attention, a bright light shone over the inefficiencies of FTCs. Nonetheless, it gave another opportunity for the revival of FTCs. The Central Government once again undertook the FTC scheme and endowed more funds to appoint judges. In 2019, the government proposed to set up 1023 fast-track courts to clear cases under the POCSO Act. This focused on districts that had over 100 pending cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
It has been 20 years since the idea of fast-track courts was first proposed. Since then, the Central Government has devoted large sums of money and time to this scheme. However, they have done little to identify and address the prevalent systemic issues. It is irrational to set up more fast-track courts with the same problems. The government needs to tackle the inefficiencies in the established courts.
In its 2013 Union Budget, the Indian Government announced a INR 10 billion corpus fund called the Nirbhaya Fund. This fund contributed to the empowerment, safety and security of women and girls. States can propose and implement new plans. Upon approval the Nirbhaya fund will finance the same. Unfortunately by 2019, no state has utilized over 50% of the sanctioned funds. Cumulatively, only 11% of the national fund is utilized. This calls into question the efforts that state governments are investing to protect the females population.
One notable project that the Nirbhaya fund sponsored was the 112 emergency helpline. This helpline number would provide immediate assistance to services such as police, health, women safety and child protection. For now they launched the helpline only in Himachal Pradesh and Nagaland. There are future plans to launch it in 16 other states. An emergency helpline would be an excellent aid for the public. However, it shouldn’t just be available to the 18 states. It should be a nationwide program available to the entire population. Why can’t we use the underutilized Nirbhaya Fund to increase capacity?
Since 2012 the government has taken steps to ensure women’s safety in India. While projects start they don’t finish . Fast-track courts are fully functional and overburdened. The Nirbhaya fund is still not fully used. People are still able to find loopholes in laws for protecting the population. It isn’t enough for the government to show initiative towards a cause. There needs to be a taskforce that ensures proper execution. The government needs to ensure that ongoing projects are still functional. There needs to be some accountability for the half-hearted efforts. Otherwise the population will continue to lose faith in its government.
About The Author
Deepa Chandrachud recently completed her Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Bentley University. She is deeply passionate about gender equality and hopes to use this platform to create more awareness about issues pertaining to women’s rights.
Some other blog posts you might like:
Image Source: TimesOfIndia
This blog is edited by Dr. Shruti Kapoor