Below is the text of my mail to Justice Verma in response to invitation for suggestions towards the commission headed by him
Respected Justice Verma,
I write to offers some suggestions towards the changes needed for avoiding incidents like the gruesome gang rape in Delhi recently.
While there has been a popular outcry for amending the laws to cater for a more severe punishment for rapists, that may not be the solution, at least not in isolation. The issue of safety of women needs to be viewed in the perspective of the overall issue of improving the rule of law – as the former will automatically follow the latter. This needs to be tackled in a three pronged manner:-
· Enforcing existing laws.
· Swiftly dealing with infringements.
· Updating laws and improving legal process.
Enforcing Existing Laws
We need to draw a lesson from the experience of New York City in the mid nineties, where the “Broken Window Theory” was successfully used to reduce the crime rate substantially. The main notion of the broken window theory is that small crimes can make way for larger crimes. If the “petty” criminals are often overlooked and given space to do what they want, then their level of criminality might escalate from petty crimes to more serious offences.
The basic idea is to enforce existing rules – whether they be about traffic, vandalism, running of public transport or eve teasing – strictly. This would create an overall atmosphere where petty criminals would be booked before they get bold enough to graduate to bigger crime. A case in point is in the gangrape case under discussion, the private bus had been running as public transport with impunity, had curtains and dark glasses against prevailing rules, and was parked in an unauthorized manner near the driver’s house. Moreover, the driving license of the driver was apparently of dubious authenticity. If the enforcement of existing laws had been strong enough, the individual and his friends would never have been allowed to reach the stage where they could commit the crime.
To ensure that the police is enforcing existing laws rigorously, a monitoring mechanism needs to be put in place. This could be in the form of an ombudsman body that conducts its own inspections and surveys to assess the degree of enforcement. The mechanism should include an online avenue for citizens to report minor transgressions, which should be followed up and dealt with by the police. The practice by Delhi Traffic Police in this regard, of inviting citizens to report traffic infringements on their Facebook page and prosecutions based on this, has been quite successful. This experience can be built upon for other police departments across the country too.
The basic premise needs to be enhancing the accountability of the police, and making this accountability quantifiable and visible publicly online.
Dealing With Infringements
There is currently an apparent reluctance on the part of the police to register cases, probably in a misdirected move to showcase a lower crime rate. This can be overcome by a two pronged approach. Firstly, the manner in which performance of police is looked at should be changed. Instead of basing their performance on the incidence of crime, it should be based on the ratio of prosecution vis a vis reported crime. Secondly, the reporting of crime or even minor transgressions should be possible, not only through filing a complaint / FIR at the police station, but also online, and if possible, even over SMS. All these reports should be recorded and monitored by the proposed ombudsman and a periodic update on the outcomes should be taken. Action taken on each complaint right up to its logical conclusion should be made publicly available online too.
Updating Laws and Improving Legal Process
This aspect has been dwelt on in detail in the media and other forums, particularly in the aftermath of the current case. The basic premise should be time bound disposal of all cases, and the creation of additional judicial capability to do so. The prevailing perception that perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes can continue to delay the judicial process and avoid punishment ad nauseam is not misplaced. Such a notion encourages crime by reducing the fear of punishment. Once all crime – major or minor – starts being punished swiftly and to the full extent of law, the propensity to break the laws would automatically come down.
We have abundant faith in your wisdom and experience, as well as your resolve to ensure that this commission does not remain just another exercise in tokenism. The widespread reaction to the Delhi gang rape case is evidence that the common people of this country are completely disgusted with the state of affairs, and you have the opportunity to do something about it.
Wish you all the very best in this endeavour.