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Effect changes this year in Odisha to secure our daughters

 

Monday June 09, 2014

Odisha, Women Safety, Gender Rights, Niranjan Patnaik  
 
In view of the horrific sexual assault in Delhi in the end of 2012 and a number of cases of sexual crime and abuses in Odisha, a former Minister and the present Pradesh Congress Committee President of Odihsa, Niranjan Patnaik, pleads for certain changes in policing and the legal system in the state to ensure safety of women in Odisha.  
Niranjan Patnaik  
   

2012 came to a depressing and gloomy end because of the horrific sexual assault on a 23 year old girl in a moving Bus in Delhi. As a father and as a citizen I feel deeply anguished. With nothing much to cheer, the nation has rightly decided to give the New Year celebrations a go-bye. For long our political discourse on development has paid lip service to gender rights issues. There has been an assumption that with economic development and modernization, gender-equality will be automatically achieved. Now the chicken has come home to roost with this vicious and violent sexual assault. Incidentally Odisha is one of the states in which crimes against women have shown a rising trend in the last decade.

 

In 2012, we had the horrific incident in Pipili of rape and murder of a dalit woman. The Police had refused to register an F.I.R. and the doctors had declined to provide medical care going against the basic Hippocratic Oath till the Odisha High Court forced the Government to act, but only after a month of the attack.

The victim succumbed to the assault finally. Imagine if the incident had taken place in Delhi and Police had refused to act, arrest the accused and doctors had refused to treat the victim. As per NCRB statistics the conviction rate in crimes in Odisha is the lowest among major states in the country. The last White Paper presented by the Government in the state Assembly show that out of the cases of rape registered in a year less than 1% ends in conviction.

Policing is a state subject. Also, the setting up of courts, including special courts to expedite prosecution is entirely the responsibility of the state Governments. Unless Policing improves and there are more courts dispensing justice, both of which are responsibilities of the state Governments under the constitution, the scenario can hardly transform significantly.

Let me list out some changes that I would like to see in 2013.

Changes in Policing

Implement the recommendations of the National Police Commission and the Supreme Court Directive without any further delay. Form a State Security Commission with the Chief Minister as the Chairman and the Leader of the Opposition as a Member and DGP as convener. Appoint Police Chiefs following instructions of the Supreme Court and for a minimum period of two years. Debar Police Chiefs from occupying post-retirement positions for three years after retirement. Substitute the Police Act, 1861 by a new Police Act. Odisha is one of the states refusing to implement the orders of the Supreme Court for the simple reason that the state Government wants to continue misusing the police and does not want to loosen its vice like grip. Naveen Pattnaik wants a political police, a police that he can misuse and that is why he refuses to carry out basic police reform. Unless we stop gross politicization of the police, hardly will they be able to enforce the law without fear or favour.

Improve the Police to Population ratio to align closer to international standards. The state has seen a rise in the strength of armed police to deal with Naxal problem. But, what is needed is improving the strength of police personnel in Police Stations and on the street.

Improve Police training and resources to come up with a professional police force.

Subject police performance to social audit to improve accountability to society rather than to powerful people.

Provide CCTV coverage of public space and a suitable patrolling and first-response mechanism to enhance current level of policing and for reassuring the community generally and women specifically.

Form specialized units consisting of well-trained lady police officers to investigate all cases of violence against women efficiently and in a time bound manner. We had started all women police stations when in power. Let the BJD Government take our efforts forward.

Odisha Government has failed to come up with a DNA lab and its forensic laboratories are among the worst managed in the country. With better forensic evidence many more cases can end in conviction.

Ask the police to stop eve teasing and molestation and provide better security cover for women in the public space so that women are not scared to come out in the public.

Provide counseling and financial support to rape victims and bring them under a witness protection programme.

Legal Changes

The next Parliament Session should pass the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012 with modifications as may be recommended by the Justice Verma Committee.

Rape with murder should be statutorily defined as a crime in the category of ‘rarest of the rare’ for imposition of death sentence.

Make changes in the procedural law to make it difficult for adjournment of proceedings in rape trials so that trial takes place on a day-to-day basis.

For violent rapes, chemical castration should be the punishment.

Odisha Government should set up special courts presided by women judges to make sure that trials end within a month of submission of charge sheet by the police.

Appoint well-trained non-political Public Prosecutors.

Start a special drive to dispose of all pending rape cases.

Women are playing a more active role in public today than any time in the past altering power structures and there has been some backlash. The challenge is to continue with the progressive changes while reinforcing the traditional Indian value of respecting the feminine. Our boys have to grow with the understanding that society expects men and women to be treated equally and with respect.

Let us judge ourselves as society at the end of 2013 by the changes that we are able to bring about during the year to secure the future of our daughters. The State Congress is willing to support any initiative of the State Government in bringing about changes that I have demanded here. Our MLAs will vote with the Government for these changes. Equally, we will stand by any civil society initiative or demand for these changes in any manner requested and possible. We have to provide better quality policing and speedier justice, otherwise the level of public anger will justifiably keep growing and our society can disintegrate into chaos. The time to act is now.

[Author is a former minister of Odisha and, at present, is the President of Pradesh Congress Committee, Odisha. Views expressed in the piece are his personal.]

 
 

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