New Delhi: A virtual discussion jointly organised by Ogilvy India and the country’s leading fashion and design institute, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Delhi, brought together subject matter experts from legal, law enforcement, education, and policy on a common platform calling for active measures to raise awareness for a citizen’s role in combating rape and expediting justice with better use of forensic DNA technology. The event themed ‘Role of Citizens in Combating Rape – The Power of Youth & Creative Expression’ saw representatives from NIFT Delhi join the #DNAFightsRape–Save the Evidence awareness initiative which has been backed by UN Women India, Girl Up, Delhi Police, and AIIMS among several others in the past.
Opening the discussion, Neeti Banga, Associate Professor, Leather Design Department, NIFT Delhi said, “Youth have always been the greatest drivers of social transformation. They have the potential to disrupt inertia with their energy and creativity. However, to tap into that, our education system must introduce them to pressing social issues and seek their participation in finding solutions. Traditional learning must be supplemented with critical thinking and creative thought to facilitate change. This initiative deals with one of biggest challenges our society faces and requires a new way of thinking. Only when we change mindsets can we ensure a safe and free world for our women & children. We are delighted to be associated with this cause and look forward to extending our support to bring the message home.”
Chiming in on the significance of educating the youth on this burning social issue, Dr Pinky Anand, Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India added, “Breaking the cycle of abuse will require concerted collaboration and action between governmental and non-governmental actors including educators, health-care authorities, legislators, the judiciary and the mass media. Education of young men and women will lead to change in attitudes and perceptions. It is therefore extremely important for the youth of this nation to understand the sensitivity of this issue and create awareness through various mediums, by conducting webinars, joining causes like #DNAFightsRape and further help in educating the citizens of this nation.”
Explaining how DNA evidence helps with the pursuit of truth and justice, Vivek Sood, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India said, “Authenticity of evidence in criminal prosecutions including rape cases, is critical for securing conviction of the accused. Otherwise, there’s a risk of rapists going scot free and innocents getting punished. DNA is a very credible piece of evidence that nails the rapists and exonerates the innocents who are falsely implicated. DNA evidence supports criminal justice in rape cases, as no other piece of evidence. It is also the strongest piece of corroborative evidence that supports the version of the victim of rape. In cases where the rape victim dies, DNA can be used as a stand-alone evidence.
The initiative was lauded by DCP Isha Pant, Bengaluru who has long been involved in initiatives for safety of women & children. Sharing her experience with ‘Be Together Bangalore’ campaign and ‘Safe City Project’ to make public spaces safer for women, she said, “While it’s the job of law enforcement agencies to conduct thorough investigations in sexual crimes, it is also important for us to work with the civil society to build confidence in our justice system by raising awareness about all that is being done to ensure their safety. Not only can forensic DNA technology bring sex offenders to justice, it can also act as a strong deterrent by putting the fear of law in the minds of criminals. Use of scientific methods of investigation remains a priority for Bengaluru Police and we’re taking steps to equip the force with the training and resources for proper collection and handling of DNA samples in such cases”.
The highlight of the event was a musical composition rendered into a video film created by Chords & Co., the official music club of Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, urging citizens to ensure justice and build a safer India by preserving DNA evidence and demanding it in cases of rape & sexual assault.
Talking about their inspiration behind the musical tribute, Rasika Muralidharan, Vocalist and Head of Social Media, Chords & Co said, “As a young woman, I’m constantly aware of the threats that exist out there. The reality of the situation is grim and cannot be unseen or unheard. As a student club, we ensure that the vulnerable feel safe and flourish without fear and hesitation. Like all artists, we want our work to be impactful, to be part of the change. The track we created for this campaign holds a lot of value and power. It reminds us of the past and the atrocities we let happen as a society. But it is also a beacon of hope. A message of awareness and empowerment to victims of sexual abuse and the power of DNA evidence. The essence of the track is simply true justice for the victim with due respect for those who are wrongly accused.”
Bringing in a global perspective Tim Schellberg, Founder & President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell—GA added, “It is good to see growing public awareness and faith in forensic DNA technology in India. People are beginning to realise the unmatched power DNA evidence in bringing sexual offenders to justice and deterring incidence of rape. However, considering the size of its population and the quantum of violent crime, India is still conducting DNA tests only in a tiny fraction of cases. Like everywhere else in the world, the youth always play a big role in changing status quo and we’re beginning to see that in India. They are more globally connected and woke than any generation in the past and realise how other countries are using this technology effectively to bring down crime rate and even catch serial offenders.”
Arneeta Vasudeva, Head, Public Relations & Influence, Ogilvy India added, “Rape is a pandemic that has infected our society for long. With only 1 in 4 such cases leading to conviction, the future looks grim unless we do something about it. What started as the #DNAFightsRape–Save the Evidence citizen awareness drive has today become a movement with members of the civil society stepping forward to spread the message of Don’t Wash, Don’t Clean. Save the Evidence in their own unique ways. We will continue to take this message to the masses till conducting DNA tests in rape cases becomes the norm”.
Despite rising crime, declining conviction rates, and an unprecedented backlog of cases in courts, there is huge unmet potential for DNA casework in India. Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of crimes against women, which have shot up from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,356 in 2018 – a jump of 34 per cent. As per NCRB data, one woman is raped every 15 minutes in India, whereas only one in four reported rape cases result in conviction.
Over the last couple of years, increasing awareness of forensic DNA technology in India has led to the doubling of the number of DNA tests conducted in criminal cases from 10,000 cases in 2017 to nearly 20,000 in 2019. However, despite growth in the number of profiles being tested, the absolute volume remains low, especially in crimes against women and children.