Nirbhaya’s mother still begs for justice; 3 years after that horrific crime
English concept of law mandate that not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. This notion has been stretched to ridiculuous proportions lately. Over the last few years, the latter half of the statement has been applied so rigorously that the first half of the statement has effectively been undermined. The need to show that justice is being done has overtaken the need to deliver justice. In multiple cases, the accused have been provided with opportunity after opportunity to prove their innocence while the aggrieved have been left to suffer unspeakable indignities. Cases languish for years and even when sentences are handed out, they are nothing as compared to the gravity of crime. Arua Shanbaug was a nurse in a Mumbai hospital who was raped so brutally, that she was comatose for over 40 years, till the time of her death. Her rapist who was let off after serving two consecutive 7 year sentences, lived as normal a life as was possible. Priyadarshini Mattoo was a 25 year old student who was raped by her stalker and subsequently battered to death. It took 1 acquittal and 10 years for the rapist to be sentenced to death, a decision which was commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court. These are just two examples. In a nation as large and populous as ours, there must be thousands of examples where justice might have been seen to be done, but justice was not done. For the victim, neither was Dharma upheld, nor was Nyaya given.
It is tragic that Nirbhaya will fall under the category of victims who have been cheated by the law. On that fateful night of 16th December 2012, 6 beasts made a corpse out of a young woman, defiling her soul and snuffing out her aspirations. Now, 3 years later, none of the accused have been punished. The Supreme Court stayed the death sentence awarded by the Delhi High Court on four of the rapists. One accused was found hanging in his prison cell. And now, having completed his term, the juvenile rapist walked out free on 20th December. It is the case of the Juvenile Rapist that has caused the most consternation. It is widely believed that the juvenile (who was 17 years 6 months old at the time of the rape) was the most vicious of the rapists. And it is in this case, where justice not being done, in spite of it being seen to be done is the most evident. Firstly, police requests for bone ossification to determine the true age of the Juvenile Rapist were turned down by the Juvenile Justice Board, who instead chose to accept available documentation to determine his age. Secondly, the Juvenile Justice Board chose to disregard public protests and even a petition by Subramanian Swamy to try the Juvenile as an adult because of the severity of his crime. Thirdly, while he was convicted of rape and murder, the Juvenile rapist was given a sentence of 3 years inclusive of the time he had already served. Finally, as though travesty of justice was not enough, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court allowed the Juvenile rapist to walk out free. The letter of law was followed to the hilt while its spirit was violated at each step.
In terms of going through the ‘motions’ of law, what the High Court and the Supreme Court did was correct. As observed by the judges, in the absence of a reformed Juvenile Justice Act, they had no legal sanction to keep the Juvenile Rapist in confinement. However, of what use are the motions of law if justice itself is not being delivered. 3 years after that brutal crime that shocked the very soul of our ancient civilization, we find ourselves in a situation, where none of the rapists have been sentenced and in fact one is now a free man. What is the message that the judiciary is sending to the society at large? Is it that rapes by youngsters will be tolerated as follies of youth? Is it that the best course available for rape victims is to keep mum for justice will be delayed and probably denied in any case? Is it that public protests, demonstrations even for a positive cause will find no takers in the judiciary? In an age where judicial activism in the country seems to be undermining democratic propriety, is it not shocking that the courts chose to take no suo moto cognizance of the demands of the society for the guilty to be punished, and if not punished, to be at least confined? Would that not have sent a positive message and at the same time a stern warning to the society? By choosing to ‘go by the book’, the courts have once again only reinforced the deep pessimism that the people feel towards our legal system.
A couple of days ago, Nirbhaya’s mother took the stage and announced that she no longer wished to have her daughter identified as Nirbhaya- a phrase coined by Media. She said her name was Jyoti Singh. The law bars the rape victim to be named, but since in this case, Jyoti is no more with us and surely in some place better than this horrid world, her name has been spread far and wide. The same law also prohibits a juvenile criminal to be named. Once again, while the motions of justice have been adhered to, justice has not been done. Why should the most vicious of Nirbhaya’s rapists not be named and shamed? Why should the world not know of his monstrosity? Why must he be treated as an ‘naive juvenile’, when he wasn’t juvenile-minded enough to unleash himself on a hapless victim? Nirbhaya’s case has provided us with a lens to see how our opaque legal system works. It does not provide solace to the tormented while at the same time providing legal succour to the accused.
Let there be no shame in admitting that as a nation, we have failed Nirbhaya. From the Police that let an illegal vehicle go around in the national capital, to the government that has failed to get the reformed Juvenile bill passed on priority, to the judiciary that has allowed the Juvenile to walk free, to the society that has done nothing more than candle light protests in Nirbhaya’s memory. Nirbhaya case provided us with an opportunity to ensure that Nirbhaya’s fate does not befall any other girl. Tragically, as the court’s decision shows, it is an opportunity that has been squandered away.