NHRC study recommends protecting the anonymity of rape accused until proven guilty

The study, which was commissioned by the NHRC and conducted by the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) sought to understand sexual violence against women from the perspective of adult and juvenile sexual predators.

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The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended the protection of the rape accused’s identity in a “false case” until they are found guilty especially at a time when rape cases are on the increase, have led to public outrage and the public and social movements and political parties alike are demanding, independent prosecution and strict action against the accused.

The study titled Interrogating violence against women from the other side: An exploratory study into the world of perpetrators which was commissioned by the NHRC and conducted by the Centre for Women’s Development Studies that is affiliated to the Ministry of Education, sought to understand sexual violence against women from the perspective of sexual predators. The study highlighted that where a survivor’s identity is kept under the wraps and revealing the name is a punishable offence, the same principle does not apply to alleged accused persons whose personal details are circulated without any restrictions. “A time has come, when there is a need for safeguards to protect the accused from false claims”, the study mentions.

Amidst the public anger and a popular call for more stringent measures to address sexual violence after the rape case of Nirbhaya in 2012, the Verma Committee was constituted and subsequently the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 19 March 2013, and by the Rajya Sabha on 21 March 2013 to widen the interpretation of the term rape in the Indian Penal Code.

The study recognizes the possibility of misuse of laws quoting that, “Some quarters have objected to the ‘skewing’’ of the law in favour of women. Fears are expressed about the potential ‘misuse’ of the law by women to frame innocent men. The fear of an increase in false complaints probably comes more from a fear of the autonomy that women have received by these legal measures.” The study cites examples of a few incidents where men were falsely accused by women because of issues like miscommunication with the girl’s family, alcoholism, etc.

The study also recommended that the anonymity of the accused can definitely be protected till a charge is framed or till he is convicted. “Such a protection would be very beneficial particularly to the juvenile accused. In order to protect the anonymity of the accused, it is also important that media be careful in reporting on such cases. Although issues of identification and naming of the principal actors may not appear to be significant in the larger picture of things, they have major ramifications especially for accused who are later found to be innocent”, the study said.

The study includes interviews with juveniles convicted of crimes against women which were done at the Special Home for Boys in Majnu Ka Tilla, Delhi. Four out of the eight boys denied the charges on which they had been convicted, three accepted their role in the crime and the remaining one did not give any information. The boys who denied charges alleged a police conspiracy, false implication by the family members of the girl, wrongly charged by a woman who had some animosity with his mother as reasons for detention.

While dealing with the issue of Perspectives of Perpetrators of Crimes against women (Juvenile and Adult), the study mentioned that the strange dichotomy that presents before us is that “men are confused about how to handle their sexual urges” because now the unquestioned masculinity privilege is being challenged by gender equality and women’s greater presence in the public sphere. At the same time women, especially the ones belonging to the marginalized sections continue to remain subservient to men and absorb the notions of chastity and family honour. “This creates great confusion and anomie for boys and men as they are given mixed messages. And we as a society have not yet found the means to respond to these contradictory challenges”, the study suggested.

The study talks about protecting juveniles accused of sexual crimes in order to avoid stigmatization through citing the Nirbhaya case. It said, “Even in the Nirbhaya case the identity of the juvenile was not disclosed. This is done to ensure that he is not stigmatized. If his identity is made public, he may face difficulties in integrating back into the society. For instance, he may not be admitted into a school.” It pointed out at the lack of similar provisions for adult offenders. “Names of adult offenders are paraded in sensational media reports along with other personal information. How come the same principal of anonymity is not followed in the case of adult offenders?”, it questioned.  

Neeraj Kumar, a former Delhi Police Commissioner, who had handled the investigations during December 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape case had this to say on some of the findings of the study when he told The Hindustan Times that, “It is a fact that rape laws have been misused by stretching the concept of consent a bit too far. Miscarriage of justice on this count can be prevented by alert and mindful judiciary. Treating adults accused of rape on par with juvenile offenders is stretching the logic a little too far. By the same argument, adults accused of other crimes should also not be named until framing of charge. This suggestion appears untenable.”



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