Of laws, ordinances,programmes and more

Last week the Government promulgated a new Ordinance on sexual assault. This was done in the wake of the recent brutal rape of a young girl and the subsequent report of the Verma Committee. The said Ordinance was passed hurriedly in spite of objections from women's groups. One wonders why the Government did not wait for the impeding parliament session that could have discussed the recommendations of the report in toto. Some eminent jurists have noted that the expeditious drafting of the said ordinance makes it weak and open to misinterpretation by clever defence lawyers. Many feel that this ordinance has short changed women and blunted the teeth of the Verma Committee recommendations.

However this post is not meant to be an apologia for the report or the ordinance. It is meant to highlight the way laws, ordinances and programmes are implemented in our country. As an eminent jurist recently said on television in a debate on the new ordinance on sexual assault: it is useless to put a better engine on a car with flat tyres. No law, however perfect can be properly implemented unless those who are meant to put it into effect are up to the mark: the police and the judicial system. You can cry out ad infinitum for more fast track courts but unless you have sufficient judges and courtrooms it is all in vain. You can set out the most humane protocol for rape victims at police station, it will never see the light of day unless you are able to change the cops mindsets. We still have law enforcers who refsue to register an FIR in the case of a six month baby who was sexually assaulted, their first reaction being that: the injury to the girl's private part was caused by a rat bite. And how can you trust a police force that stand mute why a kangaroo court delivers a ludicrous punishment to a sexual assaulter. What happens to the laws.

I am also surprised at the fact that the media which normally at the front of all debates for change are still using the terms 'eve teasing' and 'outrage to modesty' when these are meant to have been banned by the proposed ordinance!

We have the best Constitution but are our constitutional right truly guaranteed? Not quite as we all know! We have a plethora of laudable and empowering rights for each and every section of society; a profusion of laws which maybe antiquated but still work if properly implemented, an abundance of social programmes that can and should have transformed our society till now. One of the schemes I have oft quoted is the ICDS (Intergrated Child Development Scheme), heralded with great fanfare in 1975. At it worked as envisaged then every Indian under the age of 38, irrespective of her/his caste, creed, economic status etc would have been well nourished, fully immunized and got pre school education. I do not think I need say anything on the issue but simply once again reiterate the shocking fact that one child dies every 3.5 minute of malnutrition.

The exampled are abundant. Let us take the debate of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000. It has a lot of positive in it as children can be reformed but that necessitates well run reform homed with a humane approach, counsellors, therapists etc. The state of the reform homes in India is shocking to say the least. Even this morning a news item highlighted the plight of a child who was repeatedly sexually assaulted in the very home meant to care for him. I so wish we started finding our voices to counter these atrocities meted to innocent souls. But we remain mute. It is not our child that is silently suffering inside the dark walls of such homes.

Simply google for social welfare schemes in India. You will find a surfeit of schemes for one and all with fancy acronyms. If these worked then everyone from women, to children, to tribals, to the disabled  and so one should be thriving. That is not the case at all.

More laws, or more schemes or more ordinances will change nothing unless mindsets change in those who have the responsibility of implementing them, Nothing will change unless those in charge stop looking at these as ways to line their already heavy pockets.

So whether the new ordinance has teeth or not is secondary. It is time for reforms in the law enforcement agencies. It is time everyone found the conscience it has so conveniently mislaid.