Andhra Pradesh has been witnessing a spate of acid attacks on girls for last several days. Some lost their lives while others were condemned to a life of perennial trauma. Society instantaneously responds. Politicians rush to the place, consoles the victims perhaps announces exgratia. Media debates for few days. Government confines to only quick jerk reaction. But, as the time passes, society forgets. New victims, new places, yet another round of similar emotional outburst, similar media blitz. But things remain as usual. Crimes are perpetrated against innocent girls again and again. The time has now come to look at the problem at its roots. These unending incidents raise few legal, administrative, social, cultural questions before the society.
The government often talks about a stringent legislation. But, what prevents the government from enacting all encompassing legislation to curb these heinous crimes. Many victims are often expressing fear that the culprits soon come out on bail and retaliate on them. The victims and their families live in a constant fear. The trauma get manifold. Therefore any legislation should make acid attacks non bailable offence. Infact, the production, storage, transport, distribution, sale and purchase of acid should be strictly controlled. Fixed accountability should be established at every stage. Regulation of these dangerous chemicals would ensure that acid will not be freely available. Fast Track courts should be set up to try these cases. Justice delayed is justice denied. Not just among the victims, there is an outrage in entire society over inordinate delay in ensuring that the culprits are punished. The victims and their families often expressed their anguish over protracted delay in our criminal justice system. Infact, this is the reason why there was such a large scale approval for the action of Warangal police. There are allegations that the culprits were killed in a fake encounter. A large number of people refused to see this incident through a constitutional and legal angle. They were not bothered to listen whether it is as per law or not. The rule of Law was rudely questioned. This is because the common man lost confidence in Rule of Law as far as acid attacks are concerned. The emotional response in the people was rooted in the cynical experience with the system and the deep routed disenchantment with the way things are happening. But, the logic was that even it is not accepted legally, such extra constitutional punishment for the culprits would deter future crimes. But, the empirical evidence proves to be otherwise. A comprehensive and stringent law and its strict enforcement based on speedy trial would act as a sort of deterrent.
But, law alone will not remove this social malaise though a conducive legal atmosphere is required. This social problem should not be seen from the prism of law and order alone. We have to analyse the social moorings of the problem. The state government should immediately appoint a study team comprising of legal experts, police, social scientists, educationists, psychologists, etc. and a report has to be called for in four to six weeks. A comprehensive policy response can be arrived at based on this report.
Let us now look at some policy measures which would atleast act as starting point for such a study. .
As recommended by Supreme Court in tackling ragging, a toll free number be made available so that people in difficulty can seek help. Police should be sensitivised on swift reaction on the complaints. In many cases victims and their family members often report in action on the part of police. Immediate response from police would have prevented such crimes many a time.
The media especially film and Television industry should conduct a soul searching. There is a clear correlation between increase in number of love related crimes and films produced with college based love as themes. Even the victims are feeling that crime shows are encouraging such criminals. Society should not be held ransom to Television channels obsession with Ratings madness. Public interest should not be made hostage to what interests’ public.
Educational reforms should be implemented to curb this crime. These reforms should cover curriculum, course structure, organization of the institutions etc. Our experience shows that ragging is less prevalent in the campuses which have a democratic atmosphere. Even Raghavan committee that studied the menace of ragging also acknowledged this fact. The Great Social Disconnect in the syllabi, academic scheduling, functioning of the institutions is responsible for perpetration of these crimes. In the absence of healthy avenues for literary, cultural, sports activities and complete absence of social debate on campuses breed such a dangerous behaviour. Parents should also involve in shaping the personality of their sons. These are only few suggestions. A more comprehensive policy response to this phenomena is possible through wider consultation and debate. Let us be serious and firm rater than simply emotional and populist. Symbolic gestures do not suffice.
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