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.

Call her by her name

The December 16, 2012 gang-rape victim had a name. To honour her memory, we could start by reclaiming her identity.

Praying for the recovery of the rape victim who ignited a nationwide protest in 2012. Creative Commons

Indian law does not permit the naming of rape victims. Presumably, this is because the crime of rape is so terrible that, in society’s eyes, it stains not the rapist but his victim with shame; a shame so indelible that her honour and that of her family is irretrievably lost.

And, so, even though Badrinath Singh, the father of the 23-year-old gangraped so brutally that she died of her injuries, said he had no objection to her real name being used, media christened her the fearless one.

We made her the braveheart who accepted her martyrdom. A martyr is someone who embraces death, usually for a religious cause.

How To Silence Women

Women who speak up against sexual assault will almost always sought to be silenced by men who are backed by institutional support.

When classics professor Mary Beard tells the story of Tereus who, in Greek mythology, cuts off the tongue of Philomena after raping her, it is to point to a particularly grisly example of how women were silenced in ancient culture.

That culture persists. Evidence lies in a Delhi hospital where the Unnao rape survivor and her lawyer remain on life support after the car they were travelling in was crushed by a truck, killing two other women in it.

In Kerala, the Franciscan Clarist Congregation of the Catholic Church has expelled Lucy Kallappura, one of the five nuns who led the protest against bishop Franco Mulakkal, on bail on charges of raping a fellow nun. Sister Lucy’s sins? Publishing poems and learning to drive. The other four nuns have already been transferred.

From Unnao to Wayanad, the lesson is clear. Women who speak up against sexual assault are sought to be silenced by men who are backed by institutional support.

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!”

India’s child rape crisis

When the religion of the perpetrators becomes more important than the crime of rape itself, then you know you are witnessing a civilisational breakdown. 

To find evidence of the epidemic of violence against young girls and women gripping India, you have only to flick through your newspaper.

In the recent past: Two minor sisters, 13 and 15, gang-raped at gunpoint in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh (UP). In Singrauli district, Madhya Pradesh, an eight-year-old gang-raped by two boys aged 15 and 16. Also in Madhya Pradesh, near Bhopal, a 10-year-old girl first murdered, then raped and sodomised.

These are a fraction of the horror stories in a country where, according to National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016, not updated since, 19,764 rape cases were registered — an 82% jump in rape cases from the preceding year, with the worst rise in UP where figures have trebled. These are, of course, reported cases in a country where, according to Mint, 99% of sexual assault goes unreported.

Continue reading “India’s child rape crisis”

The long march to justice

The world’s longest and largest march by survivors of rape and sexual assault covering 24 states over 10,000 km in India seeks to break the silence and stigma around rape. My Hindustan Times  column. 

Y’s husband beat her senseless when he found out that she had been raped by three men in the fields where she had been working. Then he threw her out of the house and told her to go back to her parents. “I had done nothing wrong. I was just trying to earn a living,” she says.

When M managed to escape from three male captors, who told her they had bought her for Rs 2 lakh, her family barred her from seeing her kids. That was in 2016.

Just two out of an estimated 15,000 women and men who have taken part in what is perhaps the world’s largest and longest march of rape survivors, Y and M are finally at the end of a two-month, 10,000 km journey covering 200 districts in 24 states. Along the way, they have met police, judges, doctors, administrators, students, lawyers, teachers. They want to change the way you see them. They want to end the silence that continues to shroud survivors of sexual assault.

Continue reading “The long march to justice”

What we talk about when we talk about rape

A new book by my friend and college room-mate  Sohaila Abdulali explores the idea that victims of sexual violence are not broken beings. Awful as it is, rape is survivable, and those who have been raped are deserving and capable of happiness again. 

I don’t remember the precise moment when my then college roommate, Sohaila Abdulali, told me about being gangraped when she was 17. It was just an incontestable fact of her life: she was from Mumbai, she loved to dance, her parents grew orchids, she had been raped.

This is not to imply that being raped was not a big deal. It was. If I remember correctly, this is how she explained it. “It’s like being run over by a bus and getting terribly hurt. You might never fully recover from your injuries. But you go on living. You can be happy again.”

In the three decades that Sohaila has remained my friend, she has never let that single event define her life, even though it is an inseparable part of who she is. Three years after being raped and while writing her undergraduate thesis on rape in India, she created a minor stir by writing about her own experience for Manushi. Nobody, at least not in India, had ever written about being raped. Nobody had run such an article with their photograph.

Continue reading “What we talk about when we talk about rape”

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”

Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country

In IndiaSpend: Anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan, one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity spoke to me on sex slavery, rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking and death for raping children.

New Delhi: She’s dodged an acid attack, had a fatwa issued against her and survived 17 separate physical assaults. But Sunitha Krishnan, 46, doesn’t seem to be the sort of person to be easily disheartened. The founder of Prajwala, an organisation that describes itself as a “pioneering anti-trafficking organisation working on the issue of sex trafficking and sex crime”, has just been chosen as one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, a global humanitarian award established to recognize modern day heroes.  The prize-winner gets $100,000 (Rs 66.3 lakh) and an additional $1,000,000 (Rs 6.63 crore) to distribute to organisations doing humanitarian work.

Continue reading “Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country”