Skip to main content

Arrest of Araria gangrape victim, caregivers: Whither India's criminal justice system?

Late Justice JS Verma
Counterview Desk
Referring to what it has called “arbitrary and reprehensible” arrest of gangrape victim of Araria district and two of her associate-activists, India’s premier civil society network National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has said, it is not just increasing cases of sexual violence against women, trans, queer-identifies persons that should trouble authorities, including the courts and the law and order authorities.
Demanding higher judiciary’s “immediate intervention” by quashing and releasing all three from jail amidst Covid times, NAPM in a statement said, one should also note “disturbing patterns in the criminal justice system, failing to address these issues in a responsible and non-hostile way, despite decades of feminist struggles to make the ‘system’ more sensitive to the hardships, vulnerabilities and needs of sexual violence survivors.”

Text:

National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) is extremely distressed and shocked to know that a young survivor of gang-rape and two other young activists of a social organization and NAPM affiliate, Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS) in Araria district (Bihar) who were assisting the survivor in Court were arrested by the police on 10th July and sent to jail on the orders of a magistrate.
It is almost a week since the survivor and the activists, Kalyani and Tanmay have been lodged at the Dalsinghsarai Jail in Samastipur district, in Covid-times! This, even as four of the five alleged rapists have not been apprehended! As the state remains in lockdown, the situation of those arrested remains precarious.
The incident is in the context of activists associated with JJSS providing support to the survivor, who was subject to gang-rape by five men in the first week of July. JJSS, a registered trade union has been organizing thousands of workers in the districts of North Bihar and has been intervening on various matters of social importance in the state.
Reportedly, the arrests of the three persons was directed in the midst of the court proceedings, when the survivor recording and signing her statement under section 164(1) of CrPC, apparently felt agitated and triggered, wanting the supportive activists to be by her side.
The level of pain and trauma a gang-rape survivor who has been made to recount her horrid experience multiple times experiences, needs no emphasis. Her ‘insistence’ on wanting the activist-care givers by her side during the trial can in no way be perceived as ‘unusual’ or ‘disruptive’.
However, far from empathizing with her fragile state of mind and being considerate towards her plea, it is understood that the learned magistrate took her demeanour as an expression of ‘lack of faith in the court itself’ and directed criminal and contempt proceedings against her and also the activists who tried to explain her situation, remanding all of them to judicial custody!
It is indeed a cruel irony that instead of promptly acting on the original FIR 59/2020 (the gang-rape case), FIR No 61/2020 was filed by the same Araria Mahila Thana and charges of criminal conspiracy, obstruction of duty and insulting the judicial officer etc have been foisted against the survivor and activists. (Sections 353,188, 228, 120-B of IPC and Contempt of Courts Act).
Needless to state, this arrest and jailing of a 22-year-old survivor is likely to have an adverse impact not just on her physical and mental health, but also her faith in the justice system itself! All these developments reveal an absolute lack of sensitivity by the ‘vanguards’ of the criminal justice system, who are expected and mandated to display a sense of utmost responsibility in such matters.
It is also learnt that before being sent to prison, no Covid test was conducted on the survivor, despite she being subject to gang-rape by several strangers, risking her health. Besides, it is also extremely deplorable that the survivor’s details, including her parents’ name and full address was disclosed in the local press, which, not surprisingly, ‘sensationalized’ the news!
Shockingly, some journalists also had ‘access’ to confidential case documents which were in the possession of the court! All of this has clearly compounded the vulnerability of the survivor and the social pressure on her!
Given the very particular circumstances, the incident has attracted nation-wide outrage with hundreds of well-known advocates, almost 7,000 women’s rights activists and concerned citizens and many organizations writing to the Chief Justice of Patna High Court to take immediate cognizance, ensure justice in the matter and institute specific measures for friendly and non-hostile environment in rape and sexual assault cases, in adherence with the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission.
The Araria case, once again, raises many fundamental questions about the role of the police, judiciary, media, the support framework for survivors and their caregivers
Pointing out the harshness and disproportionate nature of action in the Araria case, the letter by the advocates states that ‘contempt’ cannot lie in a magistrate’s court and non-bailable charges could not have been pressed, even if the survivor ‘insisted’ that the 164 statement be read out to her by care-givers and not court officers.
In their letter to the Chief Justice, feminist groups have rightly pointed out that regardless of the judicial enquiry and trial being in-camera or not, Justice Verma Commission Report requires the state to provide support services for shelter, social workers, counsellors mental health professional, lawyers and has clearly recognised the need for presence of members of women's organisations or others supporting the survivor, for moral support.
What troubles us is not just the increasing cases of sexual violence against women, trans, queer-identifies persons, but also the disturbing patterns in the criminal justice system, failing to address these issues in a responsible and non-hostile way, despite decades of feminist struggles to make the ‘system’ more sensitive to the hardships, vulnerabilities and needs of sexual violence survivors.
While significant strides have been made, leading to some enabling laws, recommendations by the Justice Verma Commission and some good judicial pronouncements by various High Courts and the Supreme Court, ground-situation indicates that a lot more needs to be done to translate the spirit of these provisions and safeguards on paper, into reality.
The Araria case, once again, raises many fundamental questions about the role of the police, judiciary, media, the support framework for survivors and their caregivers etc. and the need to bring back survivor-specific empathy at the heart of the ‘proceedings’ and ‘procedure’.
We are of the considered option that the higher judiciary has an obligation to intervene immediately to undo the harm of this dangerous precedent and ensure present and future survivors receive full support and are not further traumatized and criminalized. The ‘issue’ here is as much about the need for judicial accountability, as it is about a system supportive to those who face gendered violence.
NAPM strongly condemns the institutional harassment and arbitrary jailing of the sexual violence survivor and two young activists. We: 
  • Call upon all justice-loving social and political organizations and activists across the country to express solidarity with the survivor and the two saathis of JJSS and demand their immediate release, especially in Covid times and withdrawal of all charges foisted.
  • Appeal to the higher judiciary in the state to intervene immediately in this case with empathy and fairness, but also issue state-specific guidelines to ensure that there is a friendly and non-hostile environment in respect of rape and sexual assault cases, in adherence with the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission. 
  • Demand fair, fast and dignified judicial process for the survivor, bringing the guilty to book. 
  • Condemn attempts by sections of the media in disclosing the details of the survivor and demand action against them, as per law. 
  • Express solidarity with Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan, a responsible autonomous people’s trade union working on issues of livelihoods and social justice and condemn any attempts by vested interests to de-legitimize the work of the Sangathan

Comments

TRENDING

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

JP advised RSS to give up Hindu Rashtra, disband itself: Ex-IAS officer tells Modi

Counterview Desk
Major MG Devasahayam IAS (Retd), chairman, People-First, in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Jayprakash Narain’s (JP’s) death anniversary (October 11) has wondered whether he remembers “a patriot called Jayaprakash Narayan”. Recalling what JP thought on issues such as communalism, freedom, democracy, Hindutva etc., Devasahayam says, Modi has been been doing “the very opposite of the principles and values for which JP lived and died.”

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

UP chief secretary, DGP have 'surrendered' to political diktat: 92 retired IAS, IPS officials

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, 92 retired IAS, IFS and IPS bureaucrats, commenting on “blatant violations of the rule law” following the Hathras incident, have blamed that the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police for abjectly failing to exercise control over a “highly compromised” administration the state.

Hathras reflects Manu's mindset dominates: 'Women are false, it's in their nature to seduce'

By Parijat Ghosh, Dibyendu Chaudhuri*
The woman died and then we woke up to protest. She was alive for two weeks after the heinous incident. Many of us even didn’t notice what had happened at Hathras, how she fought during the next 15 days. Those who noticed, many of them were not sure what actually had happened. So much so, we as a nation were more busy in finding out who among the Bollywood actresses were taking drugs, who smoked weed, who had ‘inappropriate’ or more than one relationship, what kind of private conversations they had in their chat boxes and what not!

Gujarat literati flutter: State Akademi autonomy curb a Sahitya Parishad poll issue?

By Dankesh Oza*
The 115-year-old Gujarati Sahitya Parishad is in election mode. More than 3,000 life members of the Parishad are set to elect its 52nd president and 40 plus central working committee (CWC) members, which in turn will elect its executive and two vice presidents, six secretaries and a treasurer for the coming three years (from 2021 to 2023).

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Atrocities against Dalits: Why don't MPs, MLAs from the community ever speak up?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
In Gujarat, a young Dalit activist lawyer Devji Maheshwari, belonging to the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMSCEF) was killed in Surat, allegedly by a goon who was warning him against his Facebook posts not to speak up against Brahmanism. Facts have come to light suggesting there are other issues also which led to the murder, mostly related to land disputes, many a time ignored by activists.

Delhi riots: Even British didn't accuse Bhagat Singh of reading Lenin, Jack London

By Vikash Narain Rai*
After the #BlackLifeMatters movement seriously tested the credibility of police across America, the Houston police chief Art Acevado talked of ending “lawful but awful” policing. No comparison, but in India, a citizens’ committee comprising former top judges and bureaucrats is now set to inquire into the role of the state machinery and media in handling the February 2020 Delhi violence, which followed protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), “as the investigation by the Delhi Police has evoked extensive critical commentary in recent times.”