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When Will The Criminal Justice System Become A ‘Victim’ Justice System?

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To the Judiciary and the protectors of justice in India,

When will the criminal justice system become a ‘victim’ justice system?

We are Utthan, a collective of leaders who have been survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Our work focuses on advocating for legal and rehabilitation rights of survivors and promoting actions that will lead to the prevention of human trafficking. We are also core members of a national federation of survivors of trafficking called Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT).

Today we write with regard to the arrest of a gang-rape victim in the Araria district of Bihar.

Recently, we came across this news piece published in The Telegraph where we learnt that the 22-year-old survivor had been arrested for expressing her need for support from the social workers accompanying her when she was asked to sign the written version of her recorded statement.

Due to continuous questioning and repeated demands to narrate her traumatic incident, she had a breakdown and became agitated. The court saw this as an act of contempt and subsequently had the survivor and the social workers, behind the bars. (Note: The victim/survivor has been released, but the two women supporters continue to be jailed.)

This decision has left all of us angry, disappointed, hurt and with questions on the judicial processes of our country. The fact that the one, who was wronged and had approached the court to seek justice, is the one to be judged and punished is something that has shocked us and we condemn such an act of horrific injustice.

There were so many elements in this case that ARE WRONG and have left us shocked:

  • The victim was made to wait for hours outside the courtroom in the presence of the rapist.
  • The extreme heat and discomfort of being in the same physical space as the rapist was not acknowledged by the judge.
  • The repeated narration of the traumatic sexual violence that she experienced and continuous questions on that.
  • The request to have some support in understanding the document that she was to sign was not granted.
  • The psychological breakdown of the young woman was seen as contempt and humiliation of the court rather than the complete breakdown of a victim’s resilience and ability to bear pain and agony.
  • The social workers’ appeals for wanting to support her, to be given that permission and to allow her some venting of her painful emotions, has also been seen as contempt.

All of this disturbs us immensely.

Representational image.

As survivors of human trafficking, we have fought for our rights for a very long time. We have filed cases against our traffickers, gone several times to police stations and courtrooms to give our 164 statements, repeated innumerable times our narration of the traumatic “story” and insisted on punishing our perpetrators.

The presence of some supportive people at that time would be so meaningful and strength-giving. But this isn’t allowed by the law, and this difficult process we go through all alone in that fearful courtroom. And like the victim of this gang rape, each one of us has also faced the same burden of proving ourselves innocent, of shame and stigma dumped on us, and the struggle for getting one hearing with respect and sensitivity. Utthan is fighting for legal and policy reform but incidents like this often make us wonder, “Will things never change?

But, as leaders, we have to have faith and hope, and hence, we would like to let the survivor know that we are with her. We stand by her right to get angry, upset, lose her patience, express her agony….yes, we have hope that there will be spaces in our judicial system for such outbursts also.

Dear judges across India: In all courts at all levels, if this demand from us means more and more sensitivity and trauma-informed training for lawyers, judges, police officials, duty-bearers and service providers, then please ensure that.

Representational image.

If this would mean that there needs to be mental health professionals and psychologists or counsellors present during some of these agonising 164 statement recording sessions, then please ensure that. If this means that even after all these training there are still such victim-unfriendly practices, then ensure strict punishment for such behaviours. The judiciary needs to ensure all this. Please.

We have learnt that recently, the survivor has been released from jail but the social workers- Kalyani Badola and Tanmay Nivedita still are still in jail. We demand that they are released too.

Struggling to keep faith and hope in justice bearers,

A survivor leaders’ collective in India.
Members of Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT).

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