Justice system needs to be more sensitive towards victims of crimes against women

In defending the release of rape-convicts, certain judges have made remarks over the years which have been classified as 'highly misogynistic'

An anti-rape protest organised by students in Hyderabad, 2013
An anti-rape protest organised by students in Hyderabad, 2013

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Saturday reduced a life imprisonment sentence down to 20 years for a man convicted for raping a four-year-old child, observing that the convict “was kind enough to leave the minor [girl child] alive.”

The rapist, Ram Singh (40), was arrested and sentenced for life in 2007 after the child’s grandmother found him raping her in a tent near Indore’s ITI ground. He had challenged the High Court order in 2009.

A bench of Justices Subodh Abhyankar and S.K. Singh found it suitable to grant Singh the possibility of a remission. “In such circumstances, this court does not find any error in appreciation of evidence by the trial court and considering the demonic act of the appellant who appears to have no respect for the dignity of a woman and has the propensity to committee sexual offence even with a girl child aged four, this court does not find it to be a fit case where the sentence can be reduced to the sentence already undergone by him," it said.

“However, considering the fact that he was kind enough to leave the prosecutrix alive, this court is of the opinion that the life imprisonment can be reduced to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment,” added the bench on Saturday as the convict completed 15 years of imprisonment. 

“Collegium judges Justice Subodh Abhayankar and Justice S.K. Singh of Madhya Pradesh High Court reduced rape convict's sentence considering that he had left minor victim alive. The victim was only 4-years-old. These judges should be impeached and removed,” tweeted author and journalist Dilip Mandal, reacting to the judgment.

This particular judgment comes a few days after it was revealed that the Union Home Ministry had indeed approved the release of the 11 rape-convicts in the Bilkis Bano case (2002) and the subsequent public outrage.

It was also found that the 11 men were out on parole for a 1,000 days each and one of them had committed another sexual assault while out on parole.

Considering these cases, many lawyers, journalists, activists and laymen have questioned the nature of the justice system in India; as well as the outrageous remarks of certain judges who have periodically participated in victim-blaming.

“The current judicial system is simply a puppet under the Centre; they are straying further and further away from their true purpose. It is both shocking and shameful to see that some judges have been appointed without basic awareness and any gender-sensitivity training. They have managed to free convicts on deplorable grounds while making statements that show their hidden agenda,” said a Kolkata-based lawyer, who does not wish to be named. 

Recalling a similar ruling that took place on November 25, 2021 around the Shakti Mills case (2013), the lawyer said that “recent High Court judgments show that judges are exercising a certain displaced sense of compassion toward the accused and not the victim.”

In the Shakti Mills Case, the Bombay HC commuted the death penalty down to life imprisonment sentence for three men who raped a 22-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai’s abandoned Shakti Mills, citing that “the court cannot order capital punishment based on public outcry” and that “death puts an end to the concept of repentance.”

Conversations around rape and sexual assault crimes in India reached it’s zenith in 2012 when a young woman was brutally gang-raped in a bus in Delhi. Termed as the ‘Nirbhaya Case’, it engendered widespread protests and a heightened awareness of gendered-crimes.

However, court judgments have often discounted the rapists’ while placing the victim’s dignity and character on trial. In defending the release of rape-convicts, certain judges have made remarks over the years which have been classified as “highly misogynistic”.  

For instance, earlier this year in August, a Kerala Sessions Court observed that ‘sexual harassment will not prima facie stand when the complainant was wearing a dress that was sexually provocative.” To this end, the Kozhikode court dismissed the victim’s report against Civic Chandran, a 74-year-old social activist and author, while also stating that the accused was “old and therefore physically compromised, and could not have assaulted the victim.”

In March 2021, a Supreme Court bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde asked the rape-convict if he was willing to marry the victim, which led to harsh criticism from citizens and lawmakers alike. 

In July, 2020, Justice Krishna S. Dixit of the Karnataka High Court disregarded a victim’s testimony, stating that he found it “difficult to believe” considering that she had gone “to her office at night and consumed drinks with the accused.” Dixit had called it “unbecoming of an Indian woman” to fall asleep after being raped while accounting for the bail awarded to the rapist.

While granting bail, parole, reduction of sentence or a complete release, the SC and various HCs have often made observations that question the veracity of the victim’s suffering and her complaint. Terms such as “casual relationship”, “under the influence of alcohol”, “provocative clothing”, “promiscuous attitude”, and even conditions such as “will you marry her”, “will you tie rakhi” continue to be used as justifications for crimes against women.

Latest (2021) National Crime Records Bureau data shows that there were 4,28,278 reported cases of crimes against women and within that, 31,677 were registered rape cases with Delhi being classified as the most unsafe city for women. 

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