The State police personnel should be given a proper understanding of the legal services authorities so that rape survivors could be extended timely legal counselling, the Orissa High Court observed while rejecting a rape victim’s plea for abortion of the unwanted pregnancy.
The woman from a village in Cuttack district had been gang-raped on 14 April. Though the local police followed the course of law in registering cases and nabbing the perpetrators of the crime, it failed to sensitize the victim and her family members to seek free legal assistance from legal service authorities. The victim, who had an unwanted pregnancy, had later approached the High court of termination of pregnancy. However, the court was forced to reject the plea as the length of pregnancy had crossed the legally permissible 26 months time limit. Delay in the prayer had resulted in the dismissal of her prayer.
“It is imperative that every policeman should be given a proper understanding of the working of legal services authority at different levels. The legal services authority could provide training modules to the police stations to sensitize and make the police officers aware of the role and functions of the authority. Upon registering a case, the police officers could then do well to suggest the victims to approach the nearest legal service authority for legal assistance, if required”, Justice S.K. Panigrahi observed.
This Court feels that the Police officers could have acted more sensibly and, at the very least, guided them to approach District Legal Service Authority or Legal Services Units at Taluk Level or to any para-legal volunteers. This would have, perhaps, helped the victim to get timely legal advice and may have saved her from suffering the forced delivery, imposed on her due to medico-legal compulsions, Justice Panigrahi stated in the judgment.
The legal services authority at the district level is also required to coordinate with the police department in setting up legal aid booths or providing legal services helpline numbers at each and every police station. The helpline numbers could be displayed in each police station to assist the victims.
Time is of the essence in matters involving MTP Act and no victim should suffer due to a lack of onerous obligations involved in the process. Therefore, the role of the legal services authority at the district and taluk level assumes paramount importance to ensure no victim suffers due to lack of timely legal assistance.
In the light of the above, although this court is painfully conscious of the possible impact of this decision on the life of the petitioner, it is bound by the legal mandate. The physical, mental, psychological trauma suffered by the petitioner is formidable. Rape is a crime not only against a woman but against humanity at large as it brings out the most brutal, depraved and hideous aspects of human nature. It leaves a scar on the psyche of the victim and an adverse impact on society. In the present case, the agony experienced by the petitioner has left a more visible impact. Only the sufferer knows the extent of the suffering, the HC observed.