In India, Rape is the most heinous offence against women and the irony is that even though women are the victims, they are morally stigmatised to be the reason for the perpetration of this crime. According to Government data, nearly four women are raped every hour in our country and in 2021 a total of 31,777 rapes have been reported to have taken place. Our country is popularly known for its rich culture, heritage and traditions. This culture imbibed in each and every one of us makes me question the real essence of the most prevalent notion in rape crimes where victims are blamed for the injustice that happened to them.
When Rape occurs, two crimes take place and the criminal justice system comes to the aid of the victim to penalise only one which is the offender, under sec 375 of the IPC. The other crime is the act of victim-blaming in which women are castigated for their physical attires, personal relationships, virginity, sex life and so on. In Indian Courts, it is not just the accused on trial but also the victim to prove that she is an ‘ideal woman’.
In 2016, the apex Court remarked that it was “unusual” that an assaulted woman did not “immediately hurry home in a distressed, humiliated, and devastated state.” Instead, she had remained at the site of the alleged crime to identify and establish evidence. Based on a victim’s testimony that she was a sex worker, the apex court said that “she was accustomed to sexual intercourse before the incident also” and went on to acquit the assaulters in that case.
The main reason for such statements is that women are expected to live their life according to certain pre-conceived standards. They are expected to dress, walk, talk, and live life a particular way. Courts have previously relied on the two-finger test to cast a doubt on the rape survivor by proving that she is habituated to sex. In 2013, this was declared unconstitutional and on October 31, 2022, the court further reiterated this position and placed a strong conviction against this test.
The woman’s statement was “a bit difficult to trust,” according to Justice Krishna S Dixit of the Karnataka High Court in a bail ruling from 2020. Judge Dixit went on to inquire why the woman had gone “to her office at night – at 11 pm”; why had she “not opposed to consuming drinks with him”; and why she had allowed him “to stay with her till morning”. “The justification made by her that after the perpetration of the alleged act, she was fatigued and fell asleep is unworthy of an Indian woman,” the judge remarked, adding that it was “not the way our women react when they are ravished”.
These statements of the Judge provoked widespread criticism amongst the fraternity of lawyers and students. The State Government had appealed to the Karnataka High Court specifying the Court to remove his statement. Though the statements were later removed the amount of trauma and pain they ought to undergo when such statements are passed cannot be put into words. It is these acts that make rape survivors reluctant to approach courts causing the majority of rape cases to go unreported. It makes them lose faith in the judiciary and instils a fear that their character will be assassinated between the walls of the courtrooms.
On May 2021, a trial court in the western Indian state of Goa acquitted Tarun Tejpal, of rape charges that were levelled against him almost eight years ago. The judgement lays out details of the woman’s WhatsApp chats, email messages, past relationships, social life, her dress at the time of the incident, its length, and the length of its lining, even the kind of undergarment she wore, are described.
It needs to be stressed that it is shameful to be a ‘Rapist’ and not ‘being Raped’. Unfortunately, society says otherwise and the acts of Judges in Courts indicate that it is not just our society that is patriarchally driven but also our courts. Despite society blaming their acts being appealing to the men who have raped them, when rape survivors find the courage to seek justice through courts, they are left with no recourse when they are blamed even in the court halls. It is truly heart-wrenching to imagine the distance between the reality we live in and the society we wish to live in.
These kinds of misogynistic notions should be condemned else, they would promote instances of victim-blaming. The duty of the judiciary does not end with the mere act of penalising the crime in the statutes; it is also their duty to protect the mental health of the victim. The courts passing such derogatory statements on women’s modesty traumatises the victims. According to statistics, more than 50% of rape victims are between the age of 18 to 30 years. They have a life to lead, such statements make them prone to suicidal behaviours.
In India, there exists no mandatory institutional counselling provided to rape victims, though there is a greater need for it in our society. The government tends to provide certain counselling and rehabilitation measures but due to a lack of proper monitoring mechanisms, they are devoid of any fruitful results. Governments should enact legal guidelines to fight against the moral stigmatisation of the victims. Initiatives should also be taken to organise and conduct awareness camps on victim blaming with a primary focus on rural areas.
India has gained freedom from the clutches of the British, but Indian women haven’t yet gained complete freedom from the clutches of society’s ideals. The change may not be tomorrow, because such moral perceptions against women have penetrated through several generations and centuries. What we require is ‘Change’ in society with no defined boundaries for a woman. Her limit is herself.