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Monday, 23 April 2018

The Hindu Editorial: Unprecedented Crisis

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The Hindu Editorial: Unprecedented Crisis

Title: Unprecedented crisis 

(The accountability and independence of the judiciary must not be compromised) 

These are extraordinary times for the judiciary. From signs of a confrontation with the executive over judicial appointments to an unpleasant rift among Supreme Court judges, it has seen much turmoil recently. 

The process initiated by major Opposition parties to impeach the Chief Justice of India is an unprecedented crisis. The motion, details of which cannot be revealed under Rajya Sabha rules until it is admitted, draws its substance and arguments mainly from the points raised by the four senior-most judges, whose dissent brought simmering differences to the fore. 

Their main charge, that CJI Dipak Misra selectively assigns cases to Benches of his choice, had some dark ramifications, including insinuations about the way he dealt with a petition by a medical college on the judicial and administrative side, and a case of suspected judicial bribery. 

Are the senior judges who question this entirely wrong? While putting in place the collegium system for judicial appointments, the Supreme Court said “consultation with the Chief Justice” meant “consultation with a plurality of judges.” 

But this still raises the question: could the CJI have better addressed his colleagues’ concerns and put in place an informal consultative system, so the damage the institution has suffered could have been avoided? 

The movers of the motion do not have the numbers to get it passed. And it is wholly within the power of Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu to decide whether to admit it. 

The Rajya Sabha Chairman will have to weigh one question before admitting the motion: what will cause greater damage to the institution, pursuing the process or rejecting it outright? 

The Constitution advisedly envisages the impeachment of superior court judges as a rigorous political process driven by Parliament. It has in-built safeguards such as an inquiry by a panel of judges, and a two-thirds majority in both Houses. 

Final Words: 

The intention is to provide for both accountability and independence of the judiciary. Neither of these objectives can be dispensed in favour of the other. 

Title: Death penalty is not the answer 

(The focus must be on enhancing rape conviction rates and taking steps to rehabilitate and empower survivors) 

Amid belligerent demands for capital punishment for rapists, on Sunday the President signed an ordinance that introduces the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12. But this clamour for introducing the most stringent punishment has conveniently sidestepped the more cogent criticism of the systemic failures in addressing increasing sexual violence against women and children. 

For those looking at it from the point of view of rape survivors and their bitter experiences with the criminal justice system, capital punishment for rape is the easiest and most convenient demand to raise, yet the most harmful one also for rape survivors. 

The assumption that the severity of law is an adequate deterrent to crime being committed is a highly contested one, given that brutal rapes in India have not decreased despite enforcement of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 — a piece of legislation which prescribes the death penalty and life imprisonment for sexual assaults that result in death or the victim being reduced to a persistent vegetative state. 

Patriarchal undercurrent 

Women’s movements across the world have consistently criticised knee-jerk, populist “solutions” to curbing sexual violence that in a highly patriarchal vein overemphasise the sexual aspect of the assault and reinforce the stigma attached to rape. 

Such “solutions” are seen as undermining the need to address the essential question of the rehabilitation of rape survivors, as well as the question of the complicit role played by state agencies in denying justice to survivors. 

This critique of capital punishment for rape stems from a concrete assessment of shoddy police investigations, low conviction rates, the overall tendency of hesitation within the judiciary in awarding severe punishment, and the capacity of stringent anti-rape legislation to enhance the propensity of rapists to murder their victims. 

The epidemic proportions that child rapes and sexual assaults on women are taking in India necessitates discussion on the entire process: from the initial moment complaints reach police stations to the moment of conviction, but more often, acquittal of sexual offenders. 

The huge difficulty rape survivors face in police stations and hospitals where medical examinations are carried out is another pertinent issue which is continually sidestepped. Such harassment tends to come under the spotlight only in extreme cases, such as the one where a child, after being sexually assaulted and left bleeding, was kept waiting for hours at a civil hospital in Gurugram in March this year. 

Further, insensitive methods of police investigation, tardy filing of charge sheets, delayed forensic reports, insensitive counselling, uneven disbursement of compensation to rape survivors, aggressive cross-examination of the survivor and her witnesses by defence lawyers, inadequate witness protection, and cumbersome court proceedings have together disempowered rape complainants. 

Low conviction rate 

Instead of harping on the quantum and severity of punishment, we have to highlight the issue of a low conviction rate for rape. The dismal conviction rate for rape in India is a consequence of complicity of state agencies. 

It is precisely this which contributes to the culpability of rapists and nurtures the growing impunity with which sexual crimes are committed. This is a reality well captured in National Crime Records Bureau data that show high figures of repeat sexual offenders. 

What will work 

For the wheels of justice to start turning, it is essential to recognise that the crisis lies in the precise manner in which the existing criminal justice system unfolds. India’s growing rape culture is best reversed by enhancing conviction rates through reforms in the police and judicial systems, and by augmenting measures to rehabilitate and empower rape survivors. 

Final Words: 

We require nothing short of the following: greater allocation of state resources towards the setting up of fast-track courts; more one-stop crisis centres; proper witness protection; more expansive compensation for rape survivors, and an overhaul of existing child protection services. Until these issues are addressed, little will change on the ground. 

Vocabulary words: 

Confrontation (noun) = Conflict, clash (विरोध) 

Rift (noun) = A crack, rift (दरार) 

Turmoil (noun) = A state of great disturbance, confusion, uncertainty (उथल-पुथल) 

Impeach (verb) = Charge the holder of a public office with misconduct (दोषी ठहराना) 

Unprecedented (adj) = Never done or known before (अभूतपूर्व) 

Dissent (noun) = Disagreement, dispute (मतभेद) 

Simmer (verb) = Boil gently 

Ramifications (noun) = A complex or unwelcome consequence of an action or event 

Insinuation (noun) = An unpleasant hint or suggestion of something bad (कटाक्ष) 

Prerogative (noun) = Privilege, entitlement (विशेषाधिकार) 

Keep (someone) Under (one’s) thumb = To maintain authoritarian control over someone 

Outright (adv) = Wholly and completely (प्रत्यक्ष रूप से) 

Dispense (verb) = Distribute or provide to a number of people (वितरित करना) 

Conviction (noun) = Sentence, judgement (दोषसिद्धि) 

Belligerent (adj) = Hostile, aggressive (युद्धरत) 

Clamour (noun) = A loud or confused noise (कोलाहल) 

Cogent (adj) = Clear, logical (ठोस) 

Perpetrator (noun) = A person who carries out a harmful or illegal act (अपराधी) 

Deterrent (noun) = Disincentive, discouragement 

Instigate (verb) = Initiate, encourage (भड़काना) 

Brutal (adj) = Cruel, ferocious (क्रूर) 

Patriarchal (adj) = Relating to patriarch (पित्तंत्रात्‍मक) 

Knee jerk reaction (idiom) = An automatic or reflex reaction 

Critique (noun) = A detailed analysis (समालोचना) 

Propensity (noun) = Tendency, inclination (प्रवृत्ति) 

Acquittal (noun) = Absolution, clearing (दोषमुक्ति) 

Tardy (adj) = Delaying, delayed (मन्द) 

Augment (verb) = Increase, expand (बढ़ाना) 

Expansive (adj) = Extensive, rolling (प्रशस्त)


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