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Araria gangrape: How Bihar district court showed 'complete insensitivity' towards victim

Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover, Indira Jaising
Counterview Desk
In a letter to the Patna High Court chief justice and other judges, as many as 376 lawyers, including senior Supreme Court advocates Indira Jaising, Prashant Bhushan and Vrinda Grover, have sought “urgent and systemic changes in the treatment of survivors of violent sexual crimes in the Araria District Court, Bihar”, following an incident, in which a gangrape victim was remanded into judicial custody in Dallighsarai jail, along with two of her caretakers/friends, about 240 km from Araria. 
Charged with contempt of course instead of taking into account her emotional state in the court four days after the heinous crime took place, the letter says, “We submit that the remand into judicial custody is excessive and harsh given the circumstances. The survivor’s emotional state is extremely fragile and we fear that the separation from her caregivers and incarceration will have an adverse effect on her health.”

Text:

We, the undersigned are lawyers practicing in different places across the country, who also believe in creating a robust criminal justice system, which is responsive to the needs of survivors of violent sexual crimes. We have received news of a very disturbing incident in distant Araria, and involving a 22-year-old, who was violently gang-raped on July 6, and her two caregivers/friends.
While recording her Section 164 statement on July 10, the learned magistrate perceived her disoriented state of mind as a personal affront and remanded her (and her two caregivers) into custody for contempt of court. 
The three have been remanded into judicial custody in Dalsinghsarai Jail, about 240 km from Araria. The survivor’s details, including her father’s name and full address, have also been disclosed in the local press. The news reports cite the Court staff as having provided the details.
At this stage, we submit that even without going into the various versions of the event that will invariably be brought before your Lordships, there is a need to infuse the incident with some sensitivity and view it from that perspective: it was the fourth day since the incident of gangrape.
The survivor ‘A’ was completely distraught and also very disoriented. She was not eating or sleeping, and also in physical pain. In the course of the four days, she had had to repeat her experience to sundry personnel, often only for voyeuristic purposes.
She had been totally dependent, emotionally, on her caregivers since the incident, and they were also traumatized and exhausted. We respectfully submit that any perceived disrespect must be viewed from this perspective. Victims and their caregivers deserve extra care and sensitivity.
Rather than understanding the fragile state of the three people, they were first remanded to police custody. It may be pointed out that no Covid test was conducted on the survivor, even though she had been gang-raped by several strangers.
Rather than understanding fragile state of the victim, she first remanded to police custody. No Covid test was conducted on the survivor, though she had been gang-raped by strangers
Within hours, and while the three were in police custody, exaggerated accounts of what had transpired during the proceedings were reported on electronic media, together with complete details about the survivor, including her father’s name and her complete address. Shockingly, one such report also carries a photograph of the reporter sitting in the filing section and inspecting her file, with the court clerk and other staff looking on.
The reports published on July 11 in the local papers also state that no FIR has yet been filed in the ‘contempt case’. 
It was only at around 12:30 pm on July 11 that two witnesses were asked to sign on a blank arrest memo and they were informed that FIR no. 61/2020, Araria Mahila Thana, had been filed under the Contempt of Courts Act, which is not applicable to the magistrate’s court; also under Section 353 of the IPC (which is most implausible, even if we accept the facts at face value that the survivor had repeatedly demanded that the Section 164 statement be read out to her by her caregiver and not by the learned magistrate since she could not understand him); Sections 228 and 188 (both bailable).
The three were produced in court and remanded into judicial custody to the District Jail in Dalsinghsarai, 240 km away.
We submit that the remand into judicial custody is excessive and harsh given the circumstances. The survivor’s emotional state is extremely fragile and we fear that the separation from her caregivers and incarceration will have an adverse effect on her health.
It has also resulted in the original case pertaining to gangrape (FIR 59/2020, Araria Mahila Thana) having been put on the backburner, while all attention is focused on the alleged contempt. In popular perception too, the survivor is being maligned: ‘if she is ‘bold’ enough to raise her voice at the magistrate, then of course she is ‘bold’ enough to invite attention’. 
We pray that your Lordships intervene into the matter as it displays a complete lack of sensitivity to a victim of violent sexual crime and to her caregivers.
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