Sunday, August 31, 2014

Devil in the detail

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014

Students express solidarity. Photo: Kiran Bakale
The Hindu Students express solidarity. Photo: Kiran Bakale

Crimes against women have become a popular talking point in India. They figure in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech. They find a mention in a statement by the Finance Minister about how the growing incidence of crimes against women is affecting tourism in India. And they are the focus of a plan by the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to win the 2017 Assembly elections in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, albeit with a twist.

The BJP is concerned about crimes only against women of one community (read Hindu) and has concluded, without any evidence, that the perpetrators are all of another community (read Muslim), who are waging something that exists only in the imagination of the Hindutva rightwing, namely ‘Love Jihad’.

Where does all this leave Indian women, of whatever community? Should they feel reassured, more secure, that the highest in the land are concerned about their welfare? Or should they be afraid that this concern is ultimately only instrumental, to push a political agenda, or an economic one — such as making India a more attractive tourist destination?

Whatever one concludes, it is evident that those making statements from the top have little idea of what happens on the ground when women are assaulted, and particularly when they pick up the courage to report the crime and to fight the case through our courts.

August 22 was the first anniversary of a brutal gang rape in the heart of Mumbai when a young woman journalist went on a work assignment to the abandoned Shakti Mills compound. Her resilience and determination played no small role in ensuring that the case was registered, the perpetrators apprehended, charged and committed. But only now, a year later, do we know the details of what she went through in the process of seeking justice.

These facts are brought out in two important recent articles. One by Flavia Agnes, Audrey D’Mello and Persis Sidhva in Economic and Political Weekly of July 19, 2014 ( informs us in considerable detail about what happened before and during the Shakti Mills trial. It exposes the insensitivity that infects the entire system — from police to prosecution to the media — where the welfare of the survivor seems to be the lowest priority. If the survivor did not have the support of the Majlis Legal Centre, to which the authors of this article belong, her fate would have been much worse. For instance, it is they who insisted that her privacy should be protected from the intrusive and persistent media when she entered and left the courtroom during what was supposed to be an ‘in camera’ trial. The authors also write about the mockery of the confidential nature of the trial when the public prosecutor gave out all kinds of details of the trial to a hungry media.

Even more disturbing is an article written for the web by a colleague of the Shakti Mills gang rape survivor. Titled ‘That hashtag was my colleague’ (, the article gives us a different insight into what happens in such a situation, including the gross insensitivity of the media concerned only about an ‘exclusive’.

What I found personally most disturbing was the description given in the article about the Test Identification Parade (TIP). In popular TV crime serials and films based on systems in the West, we see a one-way glass between the survivor and the suspects. Each suspect carries a number and the survivor is supposed to state the number of the person or persons she considers responsible for the crime. In India, the system is truly brutal. In one room, often without any women police, a rape survivor has to face a line-up of men. She then has to walk up to the men she identifies as the perpetrators of the crime, touch them on the shoulder and then announce loudly what they did to her. One cannot even imagine the trauma that a woman who has been brutalised must go through with such a grotesque system in place.

There is much else in both articles that will disturb anyone concerned about the issue. But what speaks loudest is the urgent need to address these details of our criminal justice system so that women subjected to sexual assault do not have to go through further assaults on their selves in the process of seeking justice. 

(To read the original, click here.)

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