The recent gang-rape of a young Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras by upper-caste men and her hurried cremation at midnight serve as a grim reminder of how the existing framework continues to fail women.

In this case, the consistent pattern of insensitivity speaks for itself. The victim succumbed to her injuries on Wednesday, after being ignored by the police at the outset and then being denied adequate medical care at the hospital.

Neither was an FIR filed after she was brought to the police station nor was a medical professional called to treat her serious injuries (fracture of her second and third cervical vertebrae while she was strangled with her dupatta). The police apathy shows a systemic rot that must be addressed at every level.

As a society, we must come together, shedding any political affiliation, to make fundamental changes to the system. This strengthening must begin at the grassroots level by creating awareness and infrastructure.

Easy access and loud messaging

Everybody should be able to reach women’s protection officers whenever they need – whether it be through helplines or direct contact. Their contact numbers should be heavily publicised. They must be in a position to intervene in all instances of violence against women.

Not only that they must be empowered for a larger role of advocacy to sensitise our society, clear guidelines must be issued periodically until the message is hammered home on the approach to law enforcement and investigation on dealing with crime against women.

Regular gender sensitisation training workshops need to be institutionalised for the police, executive and the judiciary. The highest standards of accountability within the police force must be established, and failure to follow procedure must result in strict punishment. This can be done by setting up systemic deterrents such as by including clauses in annual confidential reviews. Any lapses may impact an officer’s promotion.

A protest in Moradabad against the Hathras gang-rape. Credit: PTI

Scientifically investigating a rape case requires immediate forensic examination. Collecting the semen sample in the first few hours can provide clinching evidence. To enable investigators, forensic laboratories must be strengthened technologically and be established even in the remote areas of the country.

Our judicial system operates on the principle that let 100 guilty people may escape, but one innocent should never be unjustly punished. This requires proof beyond reasonable doubt to enable conviction. Again each case goes up the ladder of judicial hierarchy and could take over 10 years to finally be disposed of by the Supreme Court.

Framework for speedy justice

Adequate clinching evidence and speedy disposal are needed here. In this instance, the absence of a forensic lab near the place of the crime has failed to effectively collect and examine forensic evidence, This will later hinder court proceedings.

Budget allocations are needed to not only build more infrastructure across the country but also to fund the use of the latest technology in investigations to facilitate speedy conclusion.

The last and most crucial step of the process is the trial. Fast-track trials must be implemented. Consistent delays in the conclusion of a trial result in the dilution of evidence and as a result, the dilution of the strength of the case. The fact that the lethargy of India’s law-enforcement bodies of the country regarding cases of rape has not changed since the Mathura case in 1972 is shameful.

The government must set an example in this case that permeates all public institutions involved in a criminal investigation. We must strengthen our public institutions so that they serve the purpose they were created to fulfil. High standards must be set and met. Citizens must demand no less.

Poornima Advani is a former chairperson of the National Commission for Women.