This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Joanna Shireen. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Courts and the Church need to stop failing survivors when their Rapists offer marriage.

More from Joanna Shireen

On July 15, 2020, the Hindustan Times[1] reported that a former Kerala priest and rape convict Robin Vadakkumchery had moved to Court in a bid seeking permission to marry the survivor. The initial reaction any sane person can have to this is rageful disgust, for obvious reasons, followed by shocked disbelief, and then, the seeping in of painful reality that makes one realize that how we as a part of civil society treat our rape survivors. The barbaric idea that a convicted rapist, not merely accused, would even think that such a proposal would redeem him of his violence is enough to make one question or gauge the moral obligations that civil society, as a community, owes to its survivors especially minors.

In case you have missed the news, a former Christian priest in north Kerala who is serving a life term for raping and impregnating a minor girl who was 15 at the time, moved the Kerala High Court sometime in early July with a plea to allow him to marry the survivor who is now an adult. And it is with seething grief that I write this – at the time of the incident being first reported, the father of the victim girl had apparently, owned up to the crime. However, it was only during investigations that it was revealed that it was owing to forced pressure from the local Church authorities that he had to “confess” to a crime that he did not commit.

The grotesqueness of this ridiculous move can be summarized into two to three pertinent questions that warrant further conversations.

One, should the Courts even be entertaining such pleas?

Two, what has been the Church’s response to this; or where does the Church stand on the issue of sexual exploitation of minors?

Three, in the ever-evolving framework of legal jurisprudence, should there not be a change in precedent whereby instances of rape are legitimized by marriage?

Let’s break it down, question by question.

Unfortunately, there is a history in the Indian legal system of entertaining such petitions time and again. In 2002, the Delhi High Court quashed the rape case against one Manoj Kumar after the victim submitted an affidavit saying that she was willing to marry him. In 2005, the accused in the Shanti Mukund Hospital case offered to marry his 23-year-old victim after not only brutally raping her but also gouging out her eyes, citing that no one would want to marry the victim due to “social stigma.”[2] And while this audacious proposal was turned down by the victim, what is more, absurd is the fact that the concerned Delhi High Court even entertained such an application. While turning down the offer, the young nurse told journalists “I will not marry him. I cannot marry him. He should be given the severest punishment. He should be hanged so that such a horrendous act is not repeated.”[3]

In 2014, a Delhi court granted interim bail to a man, accused of raping a 15-year-old, within seven days of his arrest on the grounds that the survivor’s family agreed to get their daughter married to him. The accused married the rape survivor and on the next date of the bail hearing, the Delhi court changed the interim bail to regular bail as the accused and the survivor were married.[4] In 2015, the Madras High Court granted bail to a man, convicted of raping a minor girl, so that he can settle the case by “mediating” with the victim who gave birth to a child after the sexual assault.[5] The judgment, which recorded the bail plea from the man imprisoned for sexually assaulting the minor, who bore a child out of the union, stated that it was a “fit case for attempting compromise between the parties.” Again in 2015, a woman in Odisha married her alleged rapist as she reportedly had “no other option”. A joint petition by the accused and the survivor was filed, following which the judge ordered prison officials to organize the wedding. Subsequently, the rape accused was released on bail.[6]

One cannot bargain his way out of a rape charge. But that is exactly what is being allowed to happen when a rapist is acquitted or released on bail just because he is willing to marry the victim. In 2015, a Bench headed by Justice Deepak Mishra stated that in a case of rape or attempt to rape, the conception of compromise, under no circumstances, can be thought of. The bench further emphasized that Indian Courts are to remain away from this subterfuge to adopt a soft approach to the case. But is it enough to merely pass directives or observations? The apex court must be more than just a mute spectator. There is a system of superintendence in our judiciary which gives high courts power of judicial revision over a lower court’s judgment— this must come into play to haul up these courts and judges who are pronouncing such judgments. There needs to be accountability.

According to Delhi-based human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, the problem lies not in the law (Section 375 of the IPC), which is clear that rape is not a compoundable offense and has no provisions for compromise, but with the judiciary and the courts who are pronouncing these judgments. No law encourages the waiver of punishment if a rapist offers to marry his victims. But such is the stigma attached to rape in India, that marriage to the rapist is looked upon by some as the perfect solution. And included in that, are members of the judiciary who are pronouncing such judgments.  There is of course the basic problem that lies in the patriarchal mindset prevailing in our society, particularly that of the judges who normalize instances of rape equivalent to that of a woman losing her virginity or her ‘social standing’. In reality, rape is a violent crime committed on a woman’s body and her dignity. It is about being brutally assaulted and what a victim needs, besides rehabilitation, is justice. And marriage to one’s abuser/attacker is NOT justice.

 

Moving on the second question on what the Church’s response to this has been or where does the Church stand on the issue of sexual exploitation of minor children. Let us consider the position which this priest abused. Being a member of the Christian community, I am well aware of the stance we often  have towards having an attitude of reverence towards priests. We are taught at a young age that priests are the representatives of God; they are our community leaders.

 

At the time of the commission of his crime, Robin Vadakkumchery was not just a priest but also a manager of the educational institution where the survivor would go to school. Consider the power dynamics. On one hand, you have a minor girl from an impoverished background and probably taught to believe in reverence of religious leaders, as most of us are.  On the other hand, you have a man who is a religious leader, a person having an authoritative position in the management of a school while having a fiduciary relationship with the victim. There are reports of the convicted priest claiming that the incident was a consensual one but when we consider all these parameters along with the fact that as per the Indian legislature, consent of a minor for sexual intercourse is invalid – was the victim really in a position to give her consent, free from manipulation, coercion, and force?

Furthermore, the rape survivor, a higher secondary student, gave birth to a baby in the church-run Christu Raja Hospital in Koothuparambha of Kannur district.

 

Yet none of the authorities of either the school or the hospital deemed the pregnancy of a minor, as important enough to report to any authority? Are our religious institutions, their leaders, and members that oblivious to the reality of instances of child sexual exploitation and the laws that govern this country that penalize sexual offenses against children? Or worse, are they complicit in heinous crimes such as these?

 

In 2015, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI) formulated the CBCI Child Protection Policy and Procedure. However, much of the said policy is shrouded in secrecy as the document was circulated only to Bishops and major superiors. The two groups were given strict instructions not to share its content with others lest it’s publication leads to a deluge of complaints and it fell into the hands of those who may not use it with discretion.[7]

One simply cannot overlook or obliterate the fact that the rape convict, in this case, abused his position as a priest when he sexually exploited the minor victim. When asked about Vadakkumchery’s latest plea to marry the survivor, a spokesman of the Mananthawady Diocese, to which the priest belonged to, refused any comment saying  Robin Vadakkumchery was no longer a member of the clergy.

 

The problem with this is that it is superficially a punitive measure. His removal from the clergy is simply a form of punishment for his actions. What needs to be done is to lay greater emphasis on preventive measures such as awareness of the laws, the promulgation of stringent child protection policies, and solidarity with survivors of sexual exploitation. The Church has a far greater responsibility than taking mere punitive measures. There need to be concrete steps taken by the Church and the Diocese that will support the mainstream rehabilitation of such victims of sexual exploitation with proper and adequate standards of care. There has to be a mechanism of accountability on the members of the Church, school, and hospital who were either aware of or involved in the impregnation of a minor girl but did nothing to report it.

This brings me to some unanswered sub-questions in this section – Where is the outrage by our community members? Why are not more religious leaders within the Christian community talking about this incident? Why is there not a collective call for action, because empathy is not enough. Empathy that requires action is what is needed.

 

Lastly, why is there a misplaced notion that instances of rape are legitimized by marriage? Are we saying that rape cannot take place within marriage? Is it not time to accept that the concept of consent forms the basis of conversations on sexual intercourse? Let me state it explicitly that there is no concept such as non-consensual sexual intercourse. Sex without any form of consent IS rape. Moreover, are women always to be identified by marriage – is that the “be it all, the means and the end” for us women folk?

Instances such as these are a sharp reminder that although we are living in 2020, the same patriarchal notions of being granted an identity through marriage is still a very problematic societal phenomenon. And this is being perpetuated through generations after generations of little girls who turn into women stuck in abusive marriages, fearing the loss of their identity if they walk out. Women who are afraid to report abuse. In 2016, when Union Minister Maneka Gandhi said that even if there was a law against marital rape, women won’t report it, Ms. Gandhi may not have been off the mark. Though she missed the complete picture that in the absence of a law, there is no data available for cases of marital rape.

 

The existing paradigm sends a wrong message to those within the system sexually assaulting little children and young women that systematic abuse is something that you can get away with by using the tactic of marriage. It gives the impression that abusers within systematic structures of religious institutions can get away with impunity.

 

Everything about this incident is gruesome, horrifying, and simply unacceptable. We live with the belief that when we send our younger ones to school or a Church, they will be safe. But instead, reality reminds us that unless impunity of people in authoritative positions is rescinded, our children are not safe. If there is no collective outrage to this, then we make it appropriate for our children to accept abuse.

And they deserve better. We need to do better by them, we need to stop failing them. Not just for us, but for the generations to come.

 

 

[1] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/former-kerala-priest-a-rape-convict-moves-court-to-marry-survivor/story-3yl9Jo9LwRwhNv7CQzM5wL.html

[2] https://www.rediff.com/news/2005/may/03rape.htm

[3] https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/rapist-offers-marriage-refused/cid/877591

[4] https://www.thequint.com/news/india/a-delhi-court-endorses-marriage-of-a-minor-girl-to-her-rapist

[5] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/madras-hc-gives-bail-to-rape-convict-to-mediate-with-victim/story-gXDtXGIGD7uffG7lUp8ytN.html

[6] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/odisha-rape-accused-marries-victim-in-jail-after-agreement-in-court/story-uowBpVsNDaqEHHGSehQqDJ.html

[7] http://mattersindia.com/2020/02/implement-child-protection-policy-without-delay-nun-asks-bishops/

Youth Ki Awaaz is an open platform where anybody can publish. This post does not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions.

You must be to comment.

More from Joanna Shireen

Similar Posts

By Sai Kaustuv Dasgupta

By shakeel ahmad

By Anuradha Verma

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below