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Women and Criminal Justice System in India

This Article dives into the difficulties that women encounter in the Indian criminal justice system, examining issues such as gender bias, discrimination, and inadequate representation. It investigates escalating crimes against women both globally and in India, emphasizing the prevalence of underreporting due to fear, societal stigma, and a lack of trust in the legal system. The article highlights major provisions and notable instances linked to women's rights, emphasizing both progress and the ongoing need for change.

The abstract closes by emphasizing the necessity of fostering a conducive environment, addressing cultural attitudes, and ensuring access to justice for women via persistent efforts from the government, legal community, and society at large.

The criminal justice system shapes the experiences of women who come into contact with it, whether they are victims of crime or defendants. Despite recent advancements, women continue to confront substantial impediments and challenges within the criminal justice system, such as gender bias, discrimination, and a lack of representation, among other things. Crimes against women are on the rise at all levels: local, regional, national, and global. Women's criminality is a global issue. Despite this progress, women continue to be victims of awful atrocities all over the world.

According to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993), "crime against women is an expression of traditionally imbalanced power relations between men and women, which have led to command over and discrimination against women by men, as well as the anticipation of women's full development".

Furthermore, these women victims are constantly afraid that the system will fail to recognize and address the specific types of crimes they have experienced, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, and that they will be subjected to victim blaming; as a result, many crimes against them go unreported. Any type of violence against women is a significant violation of the Indian Constitution's Articles 14, 15, and 21, which protect women's human rights and basic rights.

Crime victims, especially women in India, face challenges reporting crimes due to stigma and fear. Women defendants encounter hurdles like higher incarceration rates for nonviolent offenses and limited legal representation. Inside the justice system, they suffer from gender-related obstacles, including discrimination and lack of essential services. Domestic abuse, sexual assault, and trafficking are prevalent crimes against women, but reporting is hindered by victim-blaming and fear. India aims to integrate women into society, but persistent mistreatment hinders progress. The legal system's delays and inefficiencies make seeking justice difficult for women. Despite recent progress, barriers like gender-based violence and discrimination persist.

The frequent underreporting of crimes against women, such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, and harassment, is a big issue. Fear of reporting incidents is a significant obstacle for many women victims of crime in India. A variety of reasons can contribute to this dread, including:

Sexual Assault - Two finger testing
Virginity testing, commonly known as the two-finger test, is a non-invasive physical examination of a woman's vagina to determine the suppleness of vaginal muscles and whether or not the hymen is distensible. The doctor inserts two fingers into the woman's vagina, and the ease with which the digits penetrate her is presumed to be proportional to her sexual experience. Thus, if the fingers go in easily, the lady is believed to be sexually active, whereas if the fingers fail to penetrate or have difficulty penetrating, the woman is presumed to be a virgin. Furthermore, the practice violates the victim's human rights and has both immediate and long-term negative implications for her bodily, psychological, and social well-being.

Social Stigma:
Women who report crimes, particularly sexual offences, may endure social stigma and victim shaming/blaming. This can be especially detrimental in areas where there is a strong cultural taboo against publicly discussing such topics. Such incidences also result in job loss, loss of future work, and so on, and the fear of losing their livelihood prevents individuals from reporting such crimes.

Fear of revenge:
Women may be hesitant to disclose crimes for fear of revenge from perpetrators or associates. This is especially true in cases of domestic abuse, where women may be concerned for their personal safety as well as the safety of their children and families.

Lack of Trust in the Criminal Justice System:
Many women lack confidence in the criminal justice system, including police and courts, to handle their cases effectively and respectfully. This could be due to previous instances of corruption, partiality, or a misunderstanding of the law. Because the system still has a relatively small number of women, there is a preconceived belief that the prevailing patriarchal nature of society will never be able to provide justice to these women, particularly in cases involving men.

Lack of Access to Resources:
Women from marginalized communities, such as low-income families or rural locations, may encounter hurdles to obtaining resources that might assist them in reporting crimes and navigating the criminal justice system, such as legal aid or support programmes. They are unaware of their own rights and are frequently victims of imposters who pretend to provide justice. Furthermore, there have been concerns about the criminal justice system's treatment of women, including discrimination by law enforcement officials, unequal treatment in the courts, and insufficient support and protection for women who are victims or witnesses in criminal proceedings, as a result of which many female witnesses become hostile in fear of facing the wrath of society.

Vulnerability to Sexual Abuse
Women face increased vulnerability to emotional and physical violence during arrest and confinement. In prison, they're at risk of rape, assault, and humiliation, often subjected to improper touching, invasive searches, and what's termed "Sanctioned Sexual Harassment." Custody may involve threats, "Virginity Testing," nudity, and rape. Strip searches impact women more due to higher rates of past sexual assault. Dependency on officials can lead to exploitation. Protection measures are weak, and fear of reprisal deters women from reporting abuse. Simple procedures and stronger oversight are crucial to address these issues.

Some Of The Key Provisions Include With Respect To Women Victims:

The Indian Penal Code:
The Indian Penal Code criminalizes a variety of types of violence against women, including rape, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, and trafficking. The IPC also recognizes and punishes dowry murders and abuse by spouses and in-laws.

The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC):
The CrPC has unique measures for women's safety, such as protection orders and the recruitment of female police officers to investigate crimes against women. The CrPC also includes provisions for in-camera procedures and witness protection, as well as expedited trials in situations of crimes against women.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence:
This statute protects women from domestic violence, which includes physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. The act allows for protective orders, victim compensation, and the development of shelters for women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

The Act to Prevent, Prohibit, and Redress Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace:

This statute addresses the prevention, prohibition, and redressal of workplace sexual harassment against women. The act compels employers to set up a complaint system and imposes fines for noncompliance.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act:
This act prohibits prostitution and the trafficking of women and children. The act includes provisions for the protection and rehabilitation of trafficking victims, as well as the punishment of traffickers.

2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act:
The 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, a response to the Nirbhaya case, introduced new offenses like acid attack, voyeurism, stalking, and more. It amended sections in the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, and Criminal Procedure Code. The goal is to protect equal rights and prevent violence against women. While laws provide a legal framework, their implementation varies across the country. More efforts are needed to ensure women have access to their legal rights and protections.

Some Of The Landmark Cases In India Which Dealt With Issues Related To Women And Criminal Justice:

Tukaram vs. State of Maharashtra AIR 1979 SC 185 This case addressed the subject of women's imprisonment facilities, and the court ruled that women inmates must be maintained in separate, secure, and appropriate facilities.

Madhavrao S/o. M.L. Dhawale v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1991
The case involved custodial rape, which involves the rape of a woman by a public official while she is in police custody. The Supreme Court of India ruled that custodial rape is a serious crime and that the government is responsible for protecting women from such abuse. In addition, the court established norms for the protection of women in police custody.

Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1997
This case dealt with the subject of workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a breach of women's human rights, according to the Supreme Court of India, and employers are required to provide a safe working environment for women. In addition, the court established standards for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sakshi v. Union of India AIR 2004
This case concerned the medical examination of rape victims. The Supreme Court of India ruled that rape victims' medical examinations must be conducted in a manner that respects the victim's rights and dignity, and that medical examinations should not be used to further traumatize the victim.

Sharmila Kantha vs. State of Maharashtra AIR 2005
The court ruled in this instance that solitary confinement of women inmates is a type of cruel, inhuman, and humiliating treatment and that women prisoners cannot be subjected to such conditions.

Sunita Kumari vs. Jharkhand State AIR 2010
This case concerned medical care for female prisoners in Jharkhand, and the court ruled that female convicts have the right to competent medical treatment and facilities, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth.

Selvi vs. State of Karnataka AIR 2010
The court ruled in this instance that the use of polygraph and narcoanalysis tests on female detainees violated their privacy and dignity and could not be employed without their agreement.

Babita Puniya v. State of Haryana AIR 2017
This case concerned the sexual exploitation of women in the police force. The Supreme Court of India ruled that women police personnel who are victims of sexual exploitation must be supported and their rights must be protected. The court also established measures to safeguard female police officers from sexual exploitation.

These cases have contributed to the strengthening of legal protections for women in India, as well as raising awareness about the many forms of violence and abuse that women can suffer inside the criminal court system. However, significant effort remains to be done to guarantee that women's rights are adequately protected and that women have equal access to justice.

It is critical to keep working to ensure that women defendants have access to legal aid and representation in order to safeguard their rights and obtain a fair trial, and that women victims have a secure and supportive environment in which to seek justice.

In India's criminal justice system, despite legal safeguards, women face challenges like gender bias and societal stigma. Crimes against women are often underreported due to deep-seated anxieties. While landmark cases have shaped laws, there's a need for continuous efforts to ensure effective implementation. Legislation exists, but achieving justice for women requires societal change, eradicating victim-blaming, and understanding women's unique challenges. It's crucial to address gender disparities and violence for women to feel empowered seeking justice.

The focus should extend beyond legal frameworks to create an environment supportive of women. Bridging the gap between legal provisions on paper and practical accessibility is essential. Efforts should establish trust, implement legislation, and make processes more gender-friendly. India must commit to promoting gender equality for fair treatment of women in the criminal justice system. A supportive environment, public awareness, responsive justice systems, and services for victims are vital. Addressing cultural attitudes and improving legal aid can ensure justice is accessible to all.

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