Nirbhaya verdict: Why is Modi govt dragging its feet over national registry of sex offenders?

In absence of a database, monitoring these criminals and their activities is virtually impossible.

 |  4-minute read |   10-05-2017
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Was justice actually meted out to Jyoti Singh and her parents? It took over four-and-a-half years for the Supreme Court to confirm the fate of Jyoti’s four rapists. For a case that shook the nation’s collective conscience, four-and-a-half long years was neither fast track (justice) nor swift.

And how can it be justice when the cruelest of the rapists now roams free? His identity carefully masked, his privacy protected, along with the promise of a rehabilitated life. The then juvenile delinquent mercilessly raped Jyoti and brutally shoved a rod into her vagina and disemboweled her. Even his counsellor has said that he perceived no sense of remorse or guilt as he almost voluntarily described his role in the gangrape.

In the past two days, the then juvenile’s photograph has been circulating on social media with people trying to raise awareness about the rapist. While this completely compromises his identity, the idea behind circulating his picture was surely meant as a means of not protecting the rapist.

I won’t get into the legal or moral issues of completely compromising his identity of being a cook at a roadside eatery in south India. But the question we must ask is why should anyone even have to resort to such vigilante-style public awareness campaign?

rape_051017045059.jpgMost sex offenders are repeat offenders (some studies suggest that at least 50 per cent of them are).

It has been deemed necessary for two reasons — firstly, most sex offenders are repeat offenders (some studies suggest that at least 50 per cent of them are). Secondly, India still doesn’t have a national sex offenders’ registry despite a long-standing demand.

The juvenile in the Nirbhaya case had allegedly tried to lure another woman into the vehicle before Jyoti. Shiv Kumar Yadav, the Uber driver who raped a 27-year-old woman in Delhi in 2014, had raped several other women in the past — he confessed to the Delhi Police almost triumphantly.

Even Mumbai’s Shakti Mills rapists who gangraped a 22-year-old photojournalist in 2013 were found to be repeat sex offenders.

But in the absence of a national database of sex offenders, monitoring these criminals and their activities is virtually impossible. Unlike in the US or the UK, India has no way of keeping a tab on the sex offenders.

The US for example, has over 8.5 lakh registered sex offenders as of 2016. The US has both federal and state-level lists. The UK has over 41,000 such names registered on its list, called ViSOR (Violent and Sex Offender Register) as of 2012. France and China too have similar versions.

These sex offenders survive under limitations and strict restrictions — they can’t live too close to children, schools, parks etc., have to provide their personal details to the state administration. They are constantly under the radar. But in India it’s a different story. While the treble has increased on the urgent need for such a list, there has been little movement to that effect.

The draft guidelines on the proposal were still being prepared till a year ago; it would include both offenders below and above 18 years.

“According to draft guidelines proposed, extensive information on the offender will be collected. This will include, inter alia, name and aliases — registration of primary or given name, nicknames, pseudonyms, Interact identifiers and addresses, telephone numbers, addresses, including temporary lodging information, travel and immigration documents, employment information, professional licenses, school/ college/institute information, vehicle information, date of birth, criminal history, current photograph, fingerprints and palm prints, DNA sample, driver’s license, identification card, PAN card number, Aadhaar card number and voter ID number,” minister of state for home affairs, Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.

The home ministry also informed the Supreme Court last year that the government was debating whether to divulge the list to the public. Of the state administrations, only the Delhi Police website has a list of sex offenders. No other state administration has followed suit, though there were reports that Kerala was in favour of the move.

The central government, however, simply can’t afford to drag its feet over this any longer. We are a long way off as a nation to ensure women’s safety, and even perhaps a lifetime away from converting our own mindset. But constituting a national registry of sex offenders is a small step in the right direction to make India’s daughters feel a little safer.

Also read: Nirbhaya rapists to hang: What's there to celebrate?


Shutapa Paul Shutapa Paul @shutapapaul

The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur.

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