Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence, injustice.
“File an FIR if you are telling the truth. Why post on Social Media? Let the law take its course!” – Samaaj (Society)
The #MeToo movement is often criticised for being a social media trial. Many suggest that survivors of sexual violence should use the available legal framework to seek justice rather than making serious allegations against abusers and damaging their reputation on social media platforms. However, seeking justice using the existing legal framework is not as seamless as it is made to seem.
According to Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, there were over 2.44 lakh cases pending in courts related to rape and the POCSO Act in India till December 2019. Not only is the pace of court proceedings exhausting, but survivors are also often subjected to humiliating statements by the police as well as the judiciary.
On June 23, Justice Krishna S. Dixit of the Karnataka High Court, while granting bail to a person accused of committing rape, said that the survivor did not react like she was raped. Commenting on her explanation that after the crime she was exhausted and fell asleep, Justice Dixit said that such behaviour was inappropriate for an Indian woman. However, the recent action by judicial magistrate, Md. Mustafa Shahi of Araria town, sets a new low and proves why several survivors of sexual violence do not choose the legal route for justice.
According to reports, on July 6, a 22-year-old woman of Araria, Bihar was raped by four men. The survivor filed an FIR with the help of her employer, Kalyani Badola, who is a member of the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (a registered trade union of unorganised sector workers).
On July 10, the survivor was taken to the court to have her statement recorded where she was made to wait for 3 hours, for the judicial magistrate, in a hot and humid corridor that had no arrangements for people to sit. During this time, the survivor was just a few feet away from the man who had lured her and taken her to the perpetrators. His family had been trying to meet her and convince her to marry him. During these 4 days, she had repeated her story several times to the police, her identity was leaked by local media, and she had no access to a mental health professional.
After the survivor gave her statement, it was read out to her and she was asked to sign it. Due to a possible nervous breakdown, she got agitated and said that she did not understand what was read out, and insisted that she will not sign until Kalyani reads it. On the investigating officer’s intervention, she signed the statement.
The judicial magistrate called Kalyani and asked her why the survivor insisted on calling her. Kalyani and her colleague, Tanmay Nivedita, explained that if the survivor did not understand the statement, it should have been read out to her again. The judicial magistrate did not like the suggestion and handed over the survivor, Kalyani and Tanmay to the police.
An FIR was filed against all three of them under Section 353 (assault or criminal force to stop public servant from doing their duty), Section 228 (Attempting to insult and disturb judicial proceedings) of IPC and under Sections 188, 180, 120 (B) of the Contempt of Court Act. The three have been sent off to judicial custody in Dalsinghsarai Jail, 250 kms away from Araria, on July 11.
An online campaign, created to urge the Chief Justice of Patna High Court to release the survivor and the two social-workers, states that she wanted the social-workers supporting her to be present during the proceedings, a request that the survivor is entitled to for moral support and strength, as per Justice Verma Committee Report.
“The survivor’s request was perceived as a demonstration of a lack of faith or trust in the court or its proceedings. Such action is not only harmful in this case but sets a dangerous precedent of lapse of judicial accountability which will affect all other survivors of sexual assault and their support givers,” the campaign states. Meanwhile, the four men accused of rape are still roaming free.
Please sign this campaign requesting the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court to take cognisance of the matter and ensure the following:
Lastly, before lecturing a survivor who has written a #MeToo post about using available legal provisions, remember that India had a conviction rate of only 27.2% in rape cases during 2018, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).