By Aradhana CV
According to NCRB data, if there’s one thing women in Karnataka are guaranteed if they file police complaints about sexual violence, it is that they won’t get justice.
In the immediate aftermath of the New Year’s Eve mass molestation in Bangalore, it was widely reported that no cases had been filed because not a single woman had come forward with an official complaint. On 2nd January, Bangalore Police Commissioner Praveen Sood (who had taken charge just the previous day) tweeted that if any woman came forward with a complaint, Bangalore police would not wait “even a minute” to register a case and begin investigating.
A minute later, he added that even if no one filed a complaint, a suo moto case would be registered immediately if the police themselves found credible evidence.
The next day, the commissioner dramatically announced that the police had indeed “found credible evidence repeat credible evidence in a case of wrongful confinement, molestation and attempt to rob”.
So on the face of it, especially given his deliberate repetitions, it was fairly surprising when on 5th January, he seemed to walk back his talk and told NDTV that while such a thing “could have happened”, there was no evidence for it.
A deeper investigation into the patterns of sexual assault cases in Karnataka places this event as part of a long-term disturbing trend, and contextualises these events in less surprising, and infinitely more unsavoury light. There emerges an obvious answer for why no one filed a complaint about mass sexual assault on New Year’s Eve, as well as the police’s strange responses.
According to the latest 2015 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for Karnataka, for every sexual assault case reported in the state, there is a 83.9 percent chance that it won’t be convicted if it is a rape case. Chances of conviction are non-existent – yes, 100 percent likelihood of no conviction – if it is a case of an attempt to rape, a 96.1 percent chance of no conviction if it falls under Section 354 (assault on woman with intent to outrage her modesty, which includes stalking, sexual harassment, voyeurism or disrobing) and 80.6 percent chance of no conviction if it falls under Section 509 (insult to a woman’s modesty by uttering any sound, word or gesture that intrudes upon her privacy).
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While the number of rape cases reported in Karnataka lowered dramatically from 2014 to 2015, the conviction rates from 2010-2015 have stayed pretty much the same, and even decreased since 2014. There are a tiny number of ‘attempt to rape’ cases that have been registered, but alarmingly the conviction rate has remained at a constant 0.0 per cent. Section 354 offence cases have doubled from 2010 to 2015, while the conviction rate for this offence remains stagnant in single digits since 2010, and even dropped to 3.9 percent in 2015.
However, the conviction rate for Section 509 offences offers a glimmer of hope – from an appalling 0.9 percent in 2012, it has now shown considerable improvement and stands at 19.4 percent in 2015 (though one should note that the number of cases registered here remain very small).
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It turns out that not only has Karnataka deteriorated or remained stagnant historically, it continues to be one of the worst places in the country for prosecuting crimes of sexual violence.
At 16.1 percent conviction rate for rape cases, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are the 6th worst states in the country (excluding Union Territories) – far lower than the national average of 29.4 percent. It’s notable that 20 states recorded a conviction rate of more than 20 percent, while something is clearly working in Nagaland with its whopping 72 percent conviction rate.
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There isn’t much to do but despair at Karnataka’s 0.0 percent conviction rate for ‘Attempt to Rape’ cases in 2014 and 2015. It shares this bottom spot with Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Jammu & Kashmir. This category was not recorded by the NCRB until 2013 (despite the fact that rape attempts have been listed as a crime since 1860), and NCRB officials say it was only made into an official category after the recording mechanism was redesigned in 2013.
However, this certainly doesn’t let Karnataka off the hook – the national average rate here stands at almost 20 percent, while 15 states managed a double-digit conviction rate. The number of cases registered in Karnataka in 2015 is also appalling (16) compared to the national total (4,437).
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With 5,112 cases listed under Section 354, Karnataka had the 6th highest number of cases in India in 2015. This scenario is made worse when you consider that Karnataka also had the 3rd worst conviction rate among states in the country. It is among a group of 7 states (excluding UTs) to have a single digit conviction rate.
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After all these sombre statistics, here is a silver lining for Karnataka. In 2015, its conviction rate for cases under Section 509 reached double digit figures, with a conviction rate of 19.4 percent – almost touching the national average of 21.8 percent. It’s roughly in the median range of states, though the top tier states of Meghalaya and Nagaland recorded a 100 percent conviction rate for this category.
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While the data makes it clear that Karnataka is among the worst states in the country for convicting in cases of sexual assault, it’s certainly not alone – Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir present similarly abysmal data. When women do report cases of sexual assault in these states, it’s clear that in most cases, the only thing they can be confident of is that justice almost certainly won’t be delivered to them.
Understanding this makes it easier to see why women, such as those assaulted in Bengaluru on New Year’s Eve, often choose not to report cases of sexual assault at all. What does it say about our judiciary when the numbers tell us we have little reason to have faith in it at all?
(With inputs from Sharanya Gopinathan)