Jun 14, 2022,
Forty years after the country’s rape laws were amended, rape cases are still more about blaming the survivor and protecting the perpetrators.
The recent Hyderabad rape case underlines the fact that society needs to be sensitised as much as the law
On May 28, a 17-year-old girl in Hyderabad was allegedly gang raped for two hours in a moving car that had dark window shades while returning home at night. The sexual assault was committed by six accused — five minors and one 18-year-old — who hail from politically influential families.
The following day, one of the accused, who had recorded the sexual assault, circulated the video clip, in a bid to shame and silence the victim. It took three days after the crime was committed for the FIR by the survivor’s father to be registered.
In a press release, Telangana BJP MLA Raghunandan Rao, who is also a practising lawyer, released the video and distributed printouts of pictures revealing the identity of the survivor. The same video was also broadcast on several television news channels, which led to a fiery debate on social media — many cast aspersions on the survivor’s account and her relationship with the accused.
The security footage, which has also gone viral on social media, purportedly shows the minor standing with the suspected attackers outside a pub where she had met them. This by itself constitutes gross violation of Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, POCSO Act and Indian Penal Code, Section 228A(1), which states that anybody who reveals the name and visual image and personal details of a survivor of sexual violence, as well as “child/children in conflict with law”, is punishable with imprisonment.
Based on the video grabs, and how the survivor appears in them, some are propagating a theory that it was not even rape, but a consensual sexual act. The social media trial that’s taking place has already declared the survivor guilty by saying she made the allegations for money or to gain sympathy from her family members. They are attacking her parents as well for not “reining her in” — and questioning her motives for entering a club at 17.
Who is the ‘ideal’ rape survivor?
Women who firmly and confidently state facts and the charges in court are considered to harbour “an ulterior motive”. Rape survivors are supposed to be weak and helpless, they must appear with head bowed, a perfectly ‘helpless’ figure, failing which a “doubt” emerges — was it really rape?
Maybe she misunderstood? Maybe somewhere deep down, she asked for it? After all, there can’t be smoke without fire!
On May 25, 2021, after seven and a half years of legal battle, the additional sessions court, Mapusa, Goa, while acquitting Tarun Tejpal of all charges — wrongful restraint, sexual harassment, rape and unlawful confinement —pronounced a judgement disbelieving the woman who accused him of the sexual assault on November 7 and November 8, 2013. The acquittal was on the basis of a stereotypical attitude of how a victim is expected to behave in response to sexual assault.
A rape survivor is not “ideal” if she agrees to drink alcohol or if she stays out late, or even “appears normal the next day”.
A majority of judgments in rape cases are coloured by the preoccupation of the judges with “past sexual history” of the victim and their notions of “virginity”, “purity” and “chastity” of women. Gender-sensitisation programmes for police and judges must be given top priority by the state. At the same time, public discussion on ‘consent’ versus ‘violence’ needs to be conducted with young adults in schools, colleges and social set-ups.
After the Supreme Court acquitted the policemen accused of raping a tribal girl in 1972, there was public
outcry and protests, which eventually led to amendments in the Indian rape law
How does a survivor of sexual assault experience the criminal justice system?
When an individual woman, accompanied by her relatives or neighbours, approaches the police station, she has to often meet with either a hostile or an indifferent attitude of the custodians of law and order.
Lewd remarks, jokes, double-meaning sentences, character assassination, sniggers and cynical laughter are used by the police force to generate fear and uneasiness in the minds of a victim seeking legal redress. Comments on her dress, hairstyle, looks, figure, appearance and overall physical attributes are considered normal behaviour by the police officials.
The existing rape laws, sadly, do not recognise the unequal power relations between the survivor and the rapist.
For instance, the survivor is often even not given a choice to get her voice heard by her own lawyer.
The woman faces sexist biases and hostility at every step — inside the family, within the community, at the police station, at the time of medical examination in the government hospital and in the courtrooms. The criminal justice system expects the victim not only to get over the trauma and be calm and composed at the time of prosecution, but also shed all her inhibitions and give a vivid description of her ordeal in the courtroom.
After the act of rape, if the survivor even washes herself, important evidence is deemed lost. The recent
Hyderabad rape case underlines the fact that society needs to be sensitised as much as the law — and a rape is a rape, no matter how well the survivor knows the accused.
The writer is a trustee of VACHA Resource Centre for Girls and Women, Mumbai
Hyderabad gang rape: Focus on safety, not moralistic diktats