The attempted rape and heinous murder of  Pallavi Purkayastha, a young lawyer  in Mumbai on Friday (August 10)  by a 22 year old security guard followed the gang-rape of  a  young woman working with the Delhi Jal Board on the  Agra highway  on Thursday  (August 9). These two gruesome incidents are only the most recent ‘news stories’ of  a shameful reality of India in 2012 – that almost half  the population of a one billion plus  democratic nation  has been systematically denied ‘freedom’ from rape and  related sexual exploitation.
 
Rape , molestation  and sexual intimidation of young women and minor girls are part of the traumatic experience that defines gender  security in India and is wide spread across the social  spectrum. In many cases the family itself is culpable and the stigma of ‘shame’  imposes an inflexible silence on the victims. The more recent case of  former Haryana Minister  Gopal Kanda,   linked to the  suicide of   Geetika  Sharma is illustrative of the sexual tyranny that political power can unleash with little fear of the law.
 
Many rape cases in India are traced back to those with political and bureaucratic connections and hence hushed up. The grim reality of the world’s largest democracy is that the law in free India is  invoked  and interpreted indulgently  for the rich and the powerful  and  in a ruthless and oppressive manner  for the under-privileged and the weak.  
 
The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has many issues of ostensibly greater national import to address as he unfurls the tricolor on Wednesday (August 15) but this bondage of fear  of sexual exploitation that hovers over Indian women and girls must be accorded due priority in the parliament session that will follow the Red Fort celebrations.
 
The figures are appalling.  Statistics  as regards rape cases in India  released by the  National Crime Records Bureau reveal that from 1973,  when  44.28% of the accused perpetrators were  convicted by trial courts, over the decades this conviction rate  has slipped as follows:   36.83%  (1983) ;  30.30%  ( 1993 ) and 26.12% ( 2003 ). The summary is that over 30 years, the track record of  rape convictions instead of increasing has shrunk by almost half.

The sub-text of this statistics is that  perpetrators have little fear of the law and professionals aver  that the investigative process is  gender insensitive – bordering on the callous  despite Supreme Court rulings – and is loaded against the hapless victim. Delhi has the dubious distinction of being the rape-capital of India (2010 figures), with Mumbai taking the second-spot.  

Every state of India  has its heart-rending stories of rape victims being denied basic justice and not a day passes when the media does not report such tragedies .  Tribal girls  and dalit women,   patients in hospitals and even mentally challenged  female inmates have not been spared.

The challenge for the PM as he  reassures the country on other matters is to acknowledge this shameful reality of  free India  - the denial of a  basic natural freedom  to the long suffering fraternity  of  Indian  daughters and sisters.  

The credibility of a democracy is gauged by its ability to ensure that the law of the land is  adhered to in word and spirit and it has been often pointed out that while India has many admirable legal provisions, the implementation is far from satisfactory.

With respect to rape cases, justice is based on the investigation by the local police and the manner in which this is presented to the judiciary,  so that appropriate deterrent punishment is awarded  swiftly to the guilty.

Sexual crimes against women ranging from eve-teasing  and stalking  to physical  intimidation including molestation and  rape are seldom addressed with empathy and due sensitivity at the preliminary stage of investigation. Evidence collected does not conform to prevailing international standards and the victims are often treated  as having instigated the act!

The need to have dedicated all women police teams to provide the  kind of  support that a sexual offenses victim needs is imperative.  This matter falls under the purview of  individual state governments and since metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai have the rape profile they do, some pilot projects  with the local police are  called for.  For instance, the  slogan of the Delhi police – “with you; for you” must be  believed by the young women of the capital. Today the converse alas,  is the reality.

As regards the law, the Indian legal provisions  apropos crime against women date back to the Penal Code of 1860 and  many provisions had to be amended suitably.  However  there has been little political support or interest in the matter  and after years of  appeals by professionals and women’s organizations, the Union cabinet has finally on July 21st this year approved the proposal for introducing the amended Criminal Law Bill to Parliament.

Now that this elephant has actually moved – it behooves Parliament to take up this Bill on a  priority basis and  enact necessary legislation  that will act as a deterrent, as regards sexual crimes against women. In tandem, the local police need to be encouraged ,motivated - and made accountable -  to enable  a radical change in their approach to such crimes.

This is an issue that does not need another protest movement,  be it Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev.  The Prime Minister  and political leaders like Sonia Gandhi , Sushma Swaraj , Mamta Banerjee  and Mayawati amongst others must close ranks and  demonstrate to the nation that when there is political will -  positive change that will benefit the 'aam aurat' can be brought about.

Restoring a  basic freedom to the women of India must be on top of the parliamentary agenda when the Indian legislature convenes after the unfurling of the tricolor on  Wednesday, August 15. It will be instructive to see how the Purkayastha murder is handled and when justice will be rendered by the Indian state.