Factor it out

SC rightly cautions against compromise with the victim becoming the basis for reduced punishment for rape.

In a significant step, the Supreme Court has drawn a red line on a frightening tendency of courts to decrease punishment to persons accused of rape because of a 'settlement' between the victim and the perpetrator. On Tuesday, a bench headed by the chief justice, P. Sathasivam, said that such a compromise cannot be the basis for reducing the punishment for the convict, and clearly specified that this included a subsequent marriage between the victim and rapist. It also specified the untenability of a range of "special factors" to reduce the jail term: religion, race, caste, economic/social status of either accused or victim, or indeed the long pendency of the trial. In other words, it took the grimmest view possible of a conviction on the grounds of rape. But even as the courts have rightly cautioned against using long pendency to reduce the sentence, they must also inquire into how the slowness of the justice delivery system can demoralise the victim.

The outrage that followed the rape of a student in Delhi last December focused attention on the lacunae in the law and the lack of seriousness with which the criminal justice system acted upon complaints, right from registering and inquiring into the crime to the trial phase. Unfortunately, the law based on the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee was too hastily drafted, more as a way of firefighting, instead of rigorously filling in the gaps. In any case, a larger battle still beckons, of social reform, to erase the stigma too often perceived by the victim, often due to the rampant insensitivity and prejudice in her surroundings, so that pressure is allowed to build on her to forgive her assailant as a way of moving on. It is important to remember here that in most cases the rapist is well known to the victim, and with the passage of time, inordinate pressures can be brought upon her to diminish her complaint of sexual violence.

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