New Delhi, July 17, 2020: Nothing has really changed in India when it comes to gender sensitivity. We flaunt the progress we’ve seemingly made as a race solely on the basis of a long timescale of hundreds of years we’ve lived. Yet, what we think is the modern age is nothing but an insignificant blip on that timescale.
After the gruesome 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape episode in Delhi, stricter laws were brought in to stop the rot. But the mentality of some high-ups in India’s judicial system is still in the dark ages.
While dealing with a rape victim, the least that one can do is handle the case with sensitivity and care. Yet, even that is still missing in our country.
On July 6 this year, a 22-year-old woman was allegedly gang-raped by five men in Bihar’s Araria district. On July 10, the rape survivor was arrested by local police, along with two aides Tanmay and Kalyani, and sent to Dalsinghsarai Jail in Samastipur district.
On July 17, she was released on bail after a special hearing by the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Araria district court. The bail appeal for her two aides, however, was rejected.
The arrests of the rape survivor and her two aides were reportedly made in the midst of court proceedings, when she was recording and signing her statement. As reported, she had felt agitated during the process and had sought that her aides Tanmay and Kalyani be allowed to be by her side at that time. Tanmay and Kalyani are both activists from Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan.
The arrest order of the rape survivor had come at a time when four of the five alleged rapists hadn’t yet been apprehended.
The unpleasant episode sparked debates all over India among advocates, rights activists and feminist bodies. After the rape survivor’s arrest, they came together and appealed to CJ Patna High Court to intervene, quash the case against her, and release all three – the survivor and her two aides – who had been jailed amid the raging coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 63 organisations and over 7,000 activists, including Medha Patkar, had signed the petition.
They wrote, “Needless to state, this arrest and jailing of a 22-year-old survivor is likely to have an adverse impact not just on her physical and mental health, but also her faith in the justice system itself.”
Citing the Justice Verma Commission Report, they demanded the state to provide “support services for shelter, social workers, counsellors, mental health professional and lawyers”.
It is only rape survivors who can gauge the level of pain, trauma and extreme humiliation that she has been going through right from the time her modesty was outraged.
Rape survivors getting sent to prison is not something new in India.
In 2013, a 10-year-old alleged rape survivor was sent to custody by a local women’s police station in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh. Reportedly, after being raped, the girl and her mother had gone to the police station to file a complaint, but no FIR was lodged. Instead, the kid was kept in custody overnight and her mother was sent home.
The girl was later set free, but only after outrage in the media. The incident showed that the whole purpose of having in place women’s police stations in a gender-insensitive society is beaten.
In 2012, a Dalit woman was gang-raped in Sonipat, Haryana. The woman was reportedly raped by a gang of four in different locations. After lodging a complaint at a local police, she was pressured by her family, relatives and neighbours to withdraw the case.
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Amid all this, the woman was labelled a prostitute and thief. At that point, her family refused to let her return home. The impoverished family feared getting social excluded, which they felt would have shut them off from earning a basic livelihood.
Coming under pressure, the woman finally withdrew the case and changed her statement. She was then imprisoned for 10 days for lying.
For all the big talk of social progress and women’s rights, India continues to be the land where women without privilege are women without justice.