For the last several months, newspaper headlines in India seem to belong to some sort of twisted dystopian nightmare. The country has been in the throes of a repulsive rape epidemic. In July, an 11-year-old girl was raped and molested
in Chennai by 17 men over the course of seven months. In January, an eight-year-old girl in Kashmir was gang raped and killed in a Hindu temple
. In India, a woman gets raped every twenty minutes
. Unsurprisingly, as a result of this alarming increase in sexual violence against women, India is now the most unsafe country in the world to be a woman, according to the 2018 Thomas Reuters Foundation Survey
of 548 experts on women’s issues. For a country that prides itself in being the world’s largest democracy
, it has been doing astoundingly little to protect the rights of 48.18 percent
of its population — women.
This is precisely why the launch of the National Database of Sexual Offenders a fortnight ago raised the hopes of women all over the country. In an attempt to curb sexual violence, the Indian government has joined a small cohort of countries
, including the United States, Canada and Australia, who maintain an extensive database of convicted sexual offenders. The Indian NDSO currently contains identifiers
such as the names, birthdates, criminal history, fingerprints and addresses of 440,000 people convicted of rape and child abuse. The Union Home Ministry of India launched the NDSO to enable the state police to track, monitor and investigate sexual abuse cases more efficiently. Unlike the United States’ Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender database, which is accessible to the public, the NDSO can only be accessed by law enforcement agencies.
The Indian Home Ministry argues
that the database will help accelerate the investigation and trial process. Superficially, this does make sense. In cases where the perpetrator is unknown, this database might be effective in identifying and providing crucial information about them. But in a country where 95% of the rapes
are perpetrated by people known by the victim, is this database really the most constructive solution? For the majority of sexual abuse cases, it is rather redundant as it aids neither investigation nor trial for the scores of women who are abused by people they know.
Critics of the NDSO argue that it might even discourage women from coming forward. The Press Trust of India quoted
Bharti Ali of the HAQ Centre for Child Rights as saying, “I am concerned that [the NDSO] might lead to people not reporting rapes or sexual offences, because most of them are by people known to the victims.”
She’s not wrong. India already suffers from a chronic underreporting of sexual crimes, with a shocking estimated 99.1 percent cases
of sexual violence going unregistered because they are often committed by husbands or relatives of the victim. In such an environment, this database will make it even harder for victims to officially report sexual crimes.
Other than the fact that the NDSO might place more hurdles in the path of victims who want to report sexual crimes, the applicability of such a database is limited. Amid the vast array of grave problems
such as a major backlog of rape cases in the courts, botched investigations and negligent forensic examinations, the use of a database like the NDSO comes into question, as it does not provide a real solution to any of these very real problems.
Expressing concern over the need for such a database, Jayshree Bajoria of the Human Rights Watch said in an interview
with Reuters, “for any real change, the government must do the hard work of actually implementing the laws and policies,” referring to the policies that had been drafted after the national outrage sparked by the 2012 gang rape of a young student in a bus.
Between the fight against corruption, black money and an inefficient energy sector, the Indian government has its plate full with issues to tackle on its agenda for the upcoming 2019 elections. But one can only hope that the sickening surge of sexual violence in the country finds a place on this list. While the NDSO might make the process of tracking some cases of sexual crime smoother, it is no secret that in the grand scheme of problems with the system, the NDSO tackles a minor one.
Siya Chandrie is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.