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How state 'mishandled' Bihar gang-rape case taking advantage of Covid-19 crisis

Counterview Desk
Commenting on the recent arrest of a rape survivor and her two activist-associates in Araria, Bihar, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a well-known people’s organisation claiming to be part of the "growing" non-party political process in India, has regretted while the main victim has been granted bail, the activists, Kalyani and Tanmay, have not been freed.
Calling the two activists “young and sensitive”, MKSS, which played a pioneering role in getting the Right to Information (RTI) law passed, and has been working with workers and peasants in Central Rajasthan, said, their continued incarceration sends a “chilling message” that those supporting the survivors in their struggle for justice can “draw the wrath of the institutions of law.”
“This ongoing case highlights the way in which public institutions engage with cases of sexual and gendered violence”, MKSS said, appealing to the higher judiciary “to intervene” by issuing state-specific guidelines to “ensure that there is a friendly and non-hostile environment in respect of rape and sexual assault cases.”

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The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) is appalled at the arrest of a young survivor of gang-rape and two Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS) activists in Araria District, Bihar. The three were arrested by the district court and put into judicial custody on July 11, while some of the rapists remain unapprehended.
We strongly condemn both the highly irregular arrests, made worse by the risks during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the problematic and insensitive way the rape victim has been treated by institutions of justice. The survivor was agitated and upset while signing her statement in court, and wanted the presence and guidance of Kalyani and Tanmay (JJSS), who had been supporting her throughout the ordeal of registering the complaint.
Accusing the three for creating a “disruption” during court trial, the magistrate ordered the arrest of the activists and survivor on July 10 in between court proceedings for charges of criminal conspiracy, obstruction of duty and insulting the judicial officer (Sections 353,188, 228, 120-B of IPC and Contempt of Courts Act).
Keeping Kalyani and Tanmay in jail sends a chilling message that supporting victims of rape can draw the wrath of institutions of law
On July 17, the special hearing at the Araria CJM court level granted bail to the gang-rape survivor, but not to Kalyani and Tanmay, who are still unjustly detained in Dalsinghsarai Jail in Samastipur district. This arbitrary turn of events leaves the survivor without her primary support people, and leaves her open to further emotional and mental distress.
One can only imagine how the handling of the case and arrest has exacerbated existing feelings of guilt, self-blame and trauma that are typical in the aftermath of sexual violence. This is not to mention the potential stigma and social pressure from her community.
Keeping Kalyani and Tanmay in jail – two young and sensitive activists – also sends a chilling message that supporting survivors in their struggle for justice can even draw the wrath of the institutions of law. This ongoing case highlights the way in which public institutions engage with cases of sexual and gendered violence.
The police, the criminal justice system, the media, and even the ruling dispensation regularly illustrate their callousness through their actions, voice opinions that further victimise and traumatise survivors, and thereby pass a message of impunity regarding gendered crimes.
It is disheartening to find that the very institutions which are meant to uphold constitutional rights and protections have abrogated their responsibility not only to provide justice but also to ensure a safe and supportive environment for sexual assault survivors.
The case compromises the integrity of democracy and undermines the work of Indian feminist movements which struggled to make various structures of power more sensitive, empathetic, responsible and non-hostile to violence against historically marginalised groups, including women, trans persons and non-conforming gender identities.
The MKSS condemns the arrests of the rape survivor and the two JJSS activists and endorses the demands outlined previously by the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS) and the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), which:
  • 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. 
The government-imposed Covid-19 lockdown has emboldened the state apparatuses to function with arbitrariness, impunity and a lack of accountability. The mishandling of the gang-rape case in Araria is yet another wake up call for all of us.
Now, more than ever before, we must come together in solidarity to protect the democratic and constitutional values that define India, and hold institutional structures accountable and answerable for their excesses.

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