Kavita Krishnan, All India Progressive Women’s Association
As told to Nishita Jha
Across a cross-section of class, I find that women find it easier to live with having been raped because of the lack of state mechanism that allows them to seek justice. Apart from the societal obstructions that are already present — 97% rapists or sexual offenders are known to the victim from before — the legal system makes it very very difficult for a woman to report sexual violence. There have been countless occassions when members of women’s support groups are present at the police station at the time of a victim filing a complaint. There is no arrangement to keep the victim away from her assailant, who is summoned to the same thana, usually just sitting a few chairs away from her with a huge intimidatory circle of family and friends. Apart from this, there are police officials who will ask her every ten minutes if she is totally sure that she wants to register a complaint. If she manages to survive all of this and go through with her complaint, then the immediate line of questioning involves asking her why she was out of her house, why she made any contact with this person — the premise being that she should not be out and about and living her life in any case. Rape is a crime where conviction is extremely low in India, witnesses are hard to come by and in any case the social pressures are such that women know they will be shunned by their communities once they have been raped, especially if they testify — in such a case, why would you exchange the only support system you have, for the satisfaction of a trial that will not go your way?
The response of our justice system or even several female chief ministers is no different from the way khaps in Haryana or panchayats in UP respond to rape — by asking the girl to defend her movement and character. Cross-examinations are no less than soft porn, and most women who do not even discuss sex with their mothers are suddenly expected to talk about being raped, the rapists erection, the number of penetrations, etc in a room full of people that includes their assailant. The law commission has tried to press for amendments like including digital rape, and penetration through objects etc in rape laws, but still continues to exclude marital rape — once you are married your husband legally has the right to have sex with you whenever he wants, even if there is coercion involved. How ridiculous is this?
Yes, NGOs and women’s help groups try to provide counselling and support as far as possible, and are usually the first people to reach a victim for assistance. But is it not the state’s job to provide resuscitation for these women as well? There are proxy crisis intervention cells and rape helplines that have apparently been set up but the numbers for most of these do not work, and when you reach them you will find that they are akin to jail cells for women. It is a huge struggle for us to find the resources to help women seek counselling and legal help as well — and usually, the women who actively seek counselling are those with access to funds and a support system and an education that tells them that this is necessary. For the remaining majority of women in India, living with having been raped is the only option available.
Nishita Jha is a Correspondent with Tehelka.