Monday, April 15, 2024

Hundreds of rape cases pending with DC courts


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Shillong: Cases of rape inflicted by a tribal male on a tribal woman/girl are transferred to the District Council Courts. This is as per the Gauhati High Court order No LJ(B)69/73/58 dated January 30, 1981, which says that any criminal offence between tribals are to be handled by the District Council Courts.
This High Court points to Para 4 of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution which entitles the Council to constitute Village and District Council Courts in the autonomous areas to adjudicate or try cases involving customary laws or criminal offences in which both parties are tribals.
But this Section is clear that no case involving offences punishable by death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for not less than five years are heard or adjudicated by these courts, unless the Governor in the exercise of his powers under sub-paragraph(1) of Para 5 of the Sixth Schedule empowers the District Council to try such offences.
Sources have informed this correspondent that there are roughly about 510 different cases of sexual assaults etc., pending with the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council of which over 300 cases are related to rape and molestation.
In May 2013, Chairperson State Women’s Commission, T Phanbuh, wrote to Law Minister Rowell Lyngdoh asking him to intervene and transfer 163 rape cases pending in the District Councils, to the fast track courts constituted for the purpose.
What makes Meghalaya quite distinct is that the raped victims are mostly minors. Of the 163 cases, 99 are minors. There are 47 rape victims below 10 years of age, the youngest being a child of 17 months. The rest 52 minors are aged between 11-17 years.
At a recent meeting of the State Level Coordination Committee on Crime Against Women, a presentation by Director Social Welfare, HS Shangpliang, revealed that in 2013 alone there were 188 registered cases of rape and 183 cases listed as “other cases of rape.” The highest number of rape cases registered is from East Khasi Hills.
In view of the stringent anti-rape laws promulgated by the Central Government, Meghalaya should have been hauled up for allowing so many rape cases to remain unattended.
In India, Section 375 of the IPC deals with the rape under various circumstances and exception to rape while section 376 deals with the punishment for rape. A detailed study reveals that all the criminal rape acts can fall under six different descriptions according to section 375.
Punishment for rape as mentioned in section 376 is up to 10 years but not less than 7 years. But in exceptional cases it can be less than 7 years. Further a reasonable fine is also imposed. In case of rape with murder, life imprisonment or capital punishment can be given. In case of gang rape or for rape of girl when she is under twelve years, punishment can be for life.
There are several reasons why rape cases drag on but foremost is the delay caused by the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) here, to file their reports. In some cases, doctors have also delayed submission of medical reports after examining a rape victim. Police sources confirm that up to June 2013, 163 numbers of rape cases have not been charge-sheeted pending FSL reports.
Clearly, those entrusted with dealing with rape cases in Meghalaya do not realise the gravity of the situation. The rape victim continues to suffer trauma even as she waits for justice.
From the number of registered cases of rape in Meghalaya a women is raped every second day. But these are only reported cases. Several others are not reported to the police due to shame, fear or ignorance. In villages the Dorbar Shnong often steps in to bring about a ‘compromise’ between the victim and the rapist. Rape is a non-compoundable offence; hence compromise is out of question.
The State Police needs to check such attempts to bring about compromise between a victim of the rape and her rapist. In some cases the Dorbar have forced the raped victim to marry the rapist, which is what Khap Panchayats in North India do.
While fast track courts have been set up across the country to hear rape cases on a daily basis, in matrilineal Meghalaya there is complete apathy on this issue. The District Councils have no provision for a fast track court, informed senior counsel Bivan Ngapkynta. Once in a while some NGOs raise a hue and cry and after that life goes on as usual.
It is also educative to note that in Meghalaya several rape accused are moving around after being released on bail. It is learnt that public prosecutors and additional public prosecutors tend to take a compassionate view of the accused rather than the victim. Also when the Investigating Officers (IOs) try to brief them on a case they simply brush off the IO as being of no consequence.
Are the District Councils not aware that trying rape cases after the series of amendments to the anti-rape laws is now beyond their jurisdiction and competence? This is an issue that the High Court of Meghalaya ought to take cognizance of. The District Council Affairs Department needs to take note of this anomaly. So too the State Law department.


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