Around the same time, a 30-year-old woman went to a Puja pandal in Navi Mumbai. She fainted during the festivities and was rushed to a nearby hospital. As she lay unconscious in the ICU, the resident doctor on duty apparently raped her. He has been arrested and the case is being pursued.
In the same week, a fast-track court in Mumbai dismissed a case filed last year by an American woman who had alleged that she had been gang-raped by six young men with whom she had gone out one evening. She was attending a short-term course at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). The judge declared her testimony as “unreliable” and released the accused.
A related development to the above three incidents was the release of a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled Dignity on Trial: India’s Need for Sound Standards in Conducting and Interpreting Forensic Examination of Rape Survivors. It exposed the extent to which even today the ‘finger test’ is used to establish whether the raped woman had been “habituated to sexual intercourse”.
All these developments are related because they revolve around that four-letter word: rape. In different ways, they also illustrate the contradictions and the confusion that prevail on rape laws, their implementation and therefore their efficacy.
Take the first, the issue of marital rape, or non-consensual sex within marriage. Talk about it, or write about it, and you will instantly get media-savvy minority groups like Save The Indian Family jumping up and down and shouting that if there is a law on marital rape, Indian men will suffer even more than they already do under laws like Section 498 A and that the ‘Indian family’ will fall apart.
It would seem that these groups, and I presume their members are men, have never heard of domestic violence that includes all forms of physical abuse, including burning the woman who is supposed to be your life partner. That they do not know that for every rape case reported and recorded in the crime statistics, there are hundreds that are never acknowledged. That they do not know that one of the largest incidents of violence against women in India is not what they experience in the public space but within the ostensibly secure reaches of their own homes.
So, publicly we do not discuss marital rape. As a result, the only step the government can think of taking to deal with this crime is to raise the age limit to 18 years. By doing this, it believes it has solved the problem.
The rape cases of Navi Mumbai and TISS, clubbed with the Human Rights Watch report, bring out another set of issues regarding rape. Both these cases caught the attention of the media precisely because they occurred in a large metropolitan city and also because the survivors and the perpetrators were middle-class people. That rape of poor women and minor girls takes place almost every day in cities such as Mumbai is a subject that creates barely a flutter in the media.
But what happens when the case is dismissed? The testimony of the survivor in the TISS case was judged “unreliable” by the court as were the witnesses produced by the prosecution. Hence, the case was dismissed and all the accused released.
IS THIS the full story? When the TISS rape case occurred, the media was literally salivating over it. One newspaper ran the entire FIR filed by the survivor including intimate details about how it was she realised she had been raped. All newspapers published detailed information about the survivor barring her name. Other newspapers gave character certificates to the accused, all “good” boys it would seem, and ran headlines such as, “What was she doing out with six men?” So, even before the case went to court, the survivor’s character was on trial.
Why is this necessary especially when, according to the law, the character of the survivor, and hence a detail such as elasticity of her vagina, is completely immaterial in a rape case? Yet, the reality is that this method continues to be used across the country and one of the reasons, according to the HRW report, is that doctors are still being trained with outdated manuals that recommend this test.
Then, if the case ever makes it to court, you have to contend with a prosecution that might not necessarily be interested in pursuing your case. Ranged against you could be well-paid defence lawyers who can, with ease, pull the prosecution’s case apart if it is not watertight or if it has details such as the outcome of the ‘twofinger’ test. And that is precisely what happens. Nine times out of 10, such cases are dismissed because of lack of evidence, or “unreliable” evidence.
The government’s decision on amending the section on marital rape is just one more illustration of its refusal to acknowledge the extent of violence women suffer within their homes, or the insurmountable hurdles they face when they try to use laws that contradict each other.
(To read the original, click on the link above)