As alleged rapists roam free, gang-rape survivor is sent to jail

A traumatised gang-rape survivor who raised her voice in a Bihar district court and asked for two social workers–they helped her complain to police–while recording her statement was arrested along with the two social workers. With the district under lockdown, it is anybody’s guess when she will be released.

Image courtesy: Aasawari Kulkarni/Feminism in India

Two weeks after a Karnataka High Court judge observed that falling asleep after rape was “unbecoming of an Indian woman”, a judge at the Araria District Court in Bihar has sent a gangrape survivor to jail.

“Sending to prison a woman who has been raped will have a chilling effect on women as a class. It impedes access to justice”, Supreme Court advocate Vrinda Grover said. “With the arrest and imprisonment, the rape survivor’s worst fears have come true and reinforce the hesitation and apprehension that women have in approaching the criminal justice system.”  

Recording a statement made by a 22-year-old woman four days after being gang-raped by four men–none of whom have as yet been arrested–district judge Mustafa Shahi sent the rape survivor along with two social workers who had accompanied her to jail. 

The three are at present lodged at Dalsinghsarai jail in Samastipur district, some 240 km from Araria where the rape is alleged to have taken place and where the survivor lives. 

The Indian courts’ misogynistic handbook for rape survivors

The Karnataka High Court’s observation that falling asleep after rape is “unbecoming” of an Indian woman is only the latest in a line of misogynistic judgements that comment on the behaviour of women. Along with law student Anupriya Dhonchak, we sift through the cases.

Image courtesy: @penpencildraw

The Karnataka High Court’s observations on 22 June 2020 while granting bail in a rape case follow a judicial tradition of commenting on the behaviour of women, particularly in rape cases, according to an Article 14 review of recent Supreme Court and High Court judgements.

“The explanation offered by the complainant that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep, is unbecoming of an Indian woman,” said Justice Krishna S. Dixit in the case of Rakesh B vs State of Karnataka. “That is not the way our women react when ravished.”

The judge appeared also to be swayed by the fact that she was at her office at 11 pm and did not object to “consuming drinks with the petitioner and allowing him to stay with her till morning.”

The remarks sparked a storm of criticism.

SC’s judgment on women in the navy points to ingrained sexism

A two-judge Supreme Court bench orders that women officers in the navy be treated at par with men. Those who’ve suffered gender discrimination should be financially compensated.

The Indian Navy’s all-women Tarini crew circumnavigating the world/Indian Women Blog

“The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. History is replete with examples where women have been denied their just entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.” Justices Dhananjaya Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, 17 March, 2020

The Supreme Court, yet again, took the wrecking ball to patriarchy with its judgment this past week that allowed women in the navy to hold permanent commissions and appointments at par with men.

The ruling shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, a two-judge bench headed by Justices D.Y. Chandrachud along with Hemant Gupta had just a month earlier brushed aside all the usual objections – it would distract women from their family responsibilities, rank and file would not obey women – to rule that excluding women from top jobs in the army is illegal.

Media celebrated the army judgment with banner headlines. By comparison, reaction to the navy judgment has been muted. Yet, the second one takes the earlier judgment a step further.

Excluding women from top army jobs is illegal: Supreme Court

In a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court has ruled that women army officers have a right to command posts.

Dismissing arguments made by the central government against giving women command appointments in the army on grounds of their ‘physiological limitations’ and domestic responsibilities, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of women is illegal.

The landmark judgment is a victory for gender equality guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution. “Implicit in the guarantee of equality is that where the action of the State does not differentiate between two classes of persons, it does not differentiate them in an unreasonable or irrational manner,” noted the judgment by a two-judge bench of Justices Dhananjay Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi.

The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the central government against a 2010 Delhi High Court decision that held that short service commissioned women officers are entitled to permanent commissions at par with men.

Appealing against that decision, the central government told the Supreme Court about the possible unwillingness of male troops, drawn from predominantly rural backgrounds, to accept a woman in command of their units.

This isn’t rape!

There are many words — cheat, lowlife, scoundrel — that describe men who lie to women and promise them marriage just in order to have sex with them. Rapist is not one of them. My Hindustan Times column:

He was a doctor, she was studying pharmacy. They met in 2009 and fell in love, or so she thought. They lived in different cities. He said he wanted to marry her. In April 2013, she boarded a train to come and meet him. They had sex.

He dilly-dallied about marriage. In June, she learned that he had married someone else. She accused him of rape; he was arrested; and a long trial began.

If rape is about consent — or the lack of it — then can consent obtained on false information truly be consent? And if it’s not true consent, then isn’t it rape? This past week, the Supreme Court weighed in and said it was indeed.

As many as 70-80% of the rape complaints received by Delhi’s Rape Crisis Centre fall in this grey category, says Zeenat Malick, a lawyer who was with the centre until October 2018 and now has her own practice. “We need to have some kind of separate provision for these types of cases where adult women agree to sex only because men have promised to marry them,” she says. Continue reading “This isn’t rape!”

Justice Sujata Manohar: ‘MeToo is a Protest Movement, Doesn’t Always Lead to Action’

One of three Supreme Court judges to pass the path-breaking Vishaka guidelines on workplace sexual harassment, Justice Sujata Manohar spoke to me about India’s MeToo movement and its larger implications.   

Before the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of April 2013, there were the Vishaka guidelines passed by the Supreme Court in August 1997. Vishaka not only defined sexual harassment for the first time, but also included a broad sweep of offences from outright sexual assault to sexually loaded comments made in the presence of a woman employee. Relying on multilateral and international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the UN in 1979, it placed responsibility on employers to prevent or deter sexual harassment and set up processes to deal with and resolve complaints.

Vishaka acknowledged women as equal citizens in the workplace with equal rights to employment and opportunity. “The fundamental right to carry on any occupation, trade or profession depends on the availability of a ‘safe’ working environment. Right to life means life with dignity,” noted the three-judge bench of Justice Sujata V Manohar, Justice BN Kirpal and the late Justice JS Verma who would subsequently go on to head a committee suggesting legal changes and reforms in the aftermath of the gang-rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012.

In the light of India’s MeToo movement, nearly 22 years after Vishaka and six years after the law on workplace sexual harassment, what are some of the core issues that remain? Is the law working or is it adequate to address the continuing malaise? Justice Sujata V Manohar, the second woman judge after Justice Fathima Beevi to be elevated to the Supreme Court, spoke to IndiaSpend:

India has, in recent months, seen its own MeToo movement where women are naming men who molested or raped them on social media. How do you view this trend?

MeToo is a social movement. It is not a legal movement. It shows that now it is at least possible for women to complain of what they could not in the past because of social pressure and stigma. To that extent it is a sign of empowerment. That’s one way of looking at it. The second aspect is to see it as an attempt on the part of women who have in the past been harassed by men in positions of power to shame them and possibly have some action taken against them.

But, whichever way you look at it, it is not a legal movement and it does not lead necessarily to any action against the man. The idea is ultimately to see that some action is taken, whatever is available under the law.

MeToo has its limitations. A woman can be harassed by someone on the street, for instance, not necessarily by a person with whom she is working. So, it is not an answer to anything. It is only a method of protest against exploitation.

Continue reading “Justice Sujata Manohar: ‘MeToo is a Protest Movement, Doesn’t Always Lead to Action’”

It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too

Now that we are making our child sexual offences law gender neutral, isn’t it time we started talking about adult male rape survivors?

Sohaila Abdulali is telling me about the time many years ago when a man called up a Rape Crisis Centre in the US. He had been raped by a teacher some years ago, he said. But men can’t possibly be raped, replied the people at the centre, and hung up.

This would be unthinkable today, says Abdulali whose book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is out in October. The fact that men too are victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape is a no-brainer. “Rape is a horrible violation,” she says. “Why would it be any less for a man?” Continue reading “It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too”

Supreme Court shouldn’t just decriminalise homosexuality. Its verdict must also foster inclusion

In Scroll.in, I argue that the judgment on the just-concluded arguments for and against section 377, the section that criminalises sex ‘against the order of nature’, must go beyond mere decriminalisation. It must ensure freedom,  choice and rights for every citizen — more so at a time when the plurality of India is sought to be reduced to a monolithic identity of one nation and one predominant religion.

I had not planned it but during a visit to London I found myself bang in the middle of a pride parade on July 7.

As a swirl of 30,000 people, including ambulance and fire services and scores of companies, marched for gay pride, it was hard not to be moved by or caught up in the moment. Police officers in uniform kept vigil, some with the colours of the rainbow painted on their faces. An estimated one million people, according to the BBC, lined the streets to cheer them on, united by one belief: the right to love, to just be who you are.

How many years would it take, I wondered, for such a spectacular turnout in India? Continue reading “Supreme Court shouldn’t just decriminalise homosexuality. Its verdict must also foster inclusion”