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Arrest of gangrape victim: Feminist groups, 7000 individuals write to Patna CJ for justice

Counterview Desk
Following more than 360 lawyers, including senior Supreme Court advocates, writing to the Patna High Court chief justice on the need to provide justice to the Araria gangrape survivor, 63 civil society organisations (CSOs), many of them feminist groups, and 7020 individuals have urged him to ensure “immediate release and quashing of all cases” against her and two feminist activists Kalyani and Tanmay, who work with the Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan.
Calling the arrest of all “gross violations of the rights of the rape survivor and activists during the course of seeking justice”, the CSO letter says, “Such action is not only harmful in this case but sets a dangerous precedent of lapse of judicial accountability which will affect all other survivors of sexual assault and their support givers.”

Text:

We, the undersigned feminist organisations and individuals, write to you on a matter of great urgency. We have come to know of the bizarre and shocking manner in which a judge ordered the arrest of a 22-year old survivor of a gangrape along with the two activists who were accompanying her in Araria district on July 10, 2020, right in the midst of recording her statement under Section 124.
The two feminist activists -- Kalyani and Tanmay -- were her support givers and work with Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, a registered trade union that works in the unorganized sector. The three have been sent off to judicial custody in Dalsinghsarai Jail in Samastipur district, 250 km away from Araria, on July 11, 2020.
The rape survivor is seeking justice for the heinous gangrape by five men that she has undergone just four days prior to this incident. During the proceedings, after giving her statement, she was asked to sign a paper. Given the anxiety caused by her recent trauma, she wanted the activists supporting her to be present during the proceedings. This is a request that a survivor is entitled to for moral support and strength even during in-camera trial proceedings.
In lieu of recognising the survivor’s trauma in recounting the ordeal, and putting her at ease by providing her the requisite support, the magistrate took this valid request as though it were an assault on the dignity of the court. He further perceived the request of the survivor as demonstrating a lack of faith or trust in the court or its proceedings. 
When the activists intervened on her behalf, to explain her state of shock and trauma, both at the incident itself and the procedures followed prior to the statement being recorded, they were also implicated as being in ‘contempt of court’.
Over the years, women’s groups have worked tirelessly to highlight the multiple vulnerabilities and difficulties with which a survivor comes forward to register a complaint, and the need to build empathy within the justice system through different forms of support to be provided during such a time.
Over years there have been demands that survivors should be provided counselling, they should not be made to repeat their story multiple times, they should not be forced to face their assaulters, and their identity should be kept confidential. Much of this has been recognised in the Justice Verma Commission report, and judgements of various high courts.
The Justice Verma Commission report also suggested that the state will provide for "support services for shelter, social workers, counsellors mental health professional, lawyers" and has and clearly recognised the need for presence of members of women's organisations or others supporting the survivor.
Justice Verma commission said, whether enquiry and trial is conducted in camera or not, the victim must have a member of the women’s organisation inside to offer moral support
The report clearly states, "Whether the entire enquiry and trial is conducted in camera or not... (I)n any event, the victim must have a member of the women’s organisation inside to offer moral support."
We are hence appalled to find that the events that have taken place in this case are in complete violation of these guidelines, and have worsened the situation for the survivor in multiple ways. Moreover, in complete disregard of the confidentiality legally assured to a rape survivor, her name, address and details of what transpired got reported in the electronic media.
A reporter was seen rummaging through the case file in the presence of the court clerk in a photograph uploaded on a social media platform. Because of the leak, the survior has been made vulnerable to stories in the media, character assassination, and intimidation by the accused and their families and the societal pressures that followed.
On top of all these infractions, while the rapists are at large, the survivor and activists supporting her now have cases registered against them under IPC sections 353, 228, 188 and 120B, even as the FIR against the gangrape incident remains unattended. Under no circumstances can we imagine a reason for this line of action against the survivor and the activists supporting her.
We strongly condemn the gross violations of the rights of the rape survivor and activists during the course of seeking justice. Such action is not only harmful in this case but sets a dangerous precedent of lapse of judicial accountability which will affect all other survivors of sexual assault and their support givers.
We request you as the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court to take cognisance of the matter and ensure the following:
  1. The immediate release of the survivor and activists, as well as quashing of all charges against them.
  2. A smooth and quick trial of the incident of gangrape so that the culprits are brought to book 
  3. Issuing of state-specific guidelines to ensure that there is a friendly and non-hostile environment in respect of rape/sexual assault cases in adherence with the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission. 
Your actions in this case bear weight not only in the case of the current survivor but in setting the precedent and furthering the cause of creating greater access to justice for women who have survived rape and sexual assault.
The responsibility to remedy the injustice done in this matter, to compensate for the additional trauma caused due to these actions, and to ensure that the survivor recieves a speedy and fair trial in the matter of her gang rape, rests squarely upon your shoulders. We hope that you will act in accordance with constitutional principles that your office is invested to uphold.
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