Rebecca John, 48, tells Nishita Jha how the legal system is unfair towards rape victims
There is a beautifully worded statement by the Supreme Court that reassures us that all that is required to convict a rapist is the prosecutrix’s statement, that all else is unnecessary. I can say without any qualms that this statement is absolutely false. While I support the right of an accused to put up a defence, no one deserves the kind of brutal cross-examinations spanning over hours that I have seen rape victims go through in court. It is common knowledge now that the victim in the case of rape is treated as the accused — the questions asked are not just insensitive and cruel, but also variations of the same thread, all intended at tripping up this apparently sacrosanct statement. What is the point of cross-examining a victim about the number of her male friends, her personal life and choices and leaving out everything about the crime itself?
The only reason that any woman chooses to testify against rape is to restore her dignity, and perhaps, manage to punish her rapist. If the court proceedings ensure a complete loss of dignity, the medical examination to establish rape is even more inhuman. Not only do we relay on the archaic two-finger test to establish whether the victim was ‘accustomed to sex’, as if that is in any way relevant to the fact that she can be raped, but I have also seen certificates where the government appointed doctor has complained about the prosecutrix being ‘uncooperative’. How do they expect someone who was recently violently sexually violated to behave?
In urban India, the dynamics of sexual behaviour and therefore rape are changing, but the legal proceedings do not take this in to account. It is not unthinkable that a woman might accompany a man somewhere, that she might go to his home, even that she might drink with him. Does that imply that she is asking for rape? The laws try to tell us that this is not the case, but the court’s proceedings are a different story. You will find everyone from the judge to the defense to everyone who reads about the case repeatedly ask — what was she doing with him in the first place? Why did she know this man? What does this presume, except that women should not be treated as equals who are allowed to move, mingle and work freely unless they want to be raped? In all the cases of rape that I have seen, victims are routinely offered large sums of money to settle outside court, and are often offered the rapist’s hand in marriage. Beyond registering a complaint, the police rarely ever file a case against the acquittal of someone they have arrested, even though they are usually one of the first people that has seen the victim after she was violated, and are privy to her trauma. Given the insensitivity and ineffectiveness of our legal systems, who would want to testify against their rapist? I certainly wouldn’t.
Nishita Jha is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
Article first published on 31 Mar 2012.