“One part of the problem is certainly attitudes [toward rape victims],” says Aruna Kashyap, women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch. “A lot of government officials, especially police, allow negative ... stereotypes of rape survivors being promiscuous to interfere with their duties.”
Advocates for victims of rape say the collection, transport and storage of forensic evidence by police — a key component in rape cases where the onus is on the prosecution to prove the crime has occurred — is also often poorly conducted, resulting in weak prosecutions, low convictions and lenient jail-terms.
“Indian investigative mechanisms are really, really shoddy and very basic investigations are often botched up,” Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca Mammen John said.
An August 2012 study of 40 judgements of rape cases by district courts in Delhi where the accused was acquitted, found that more than half were due to police failure to perform adequate investigations.
The study, by the Delhi-based charity Shakti Vahini, cited examples where judges criticized investigating officers for not collecting evidence or finding witnesses to support the claims.
Legal experts say one of the biggest problems for rape victims seeking justice is the time it takes for a court verdict. An average case can take 5 to 10 years to reach judgement. The Delhi and Punjab rapes have fueled demands for special fast-track courts to deal with crimes against women.
However, India does not have enough courts and prosecutors — it has about a fifth of the number of judges per capita that the US has. More than 30 million cases are pending in courts, according to the National Bar Association of India.
“I want to get justice,” the Punjab schoolgirl, her face hidden by a purple scarf, declared in a Nov. 21 interview with a television station in Punjab.
The interview was not broadcast until Dec. 27, the day after she committed suicide.