Prosecuting sex crimes is starting to seem
like an impossible business. Just ask Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, the victims
in Kalakshetra or the hundreds of other women who have reported cases of sexual
assault and harassment only to run into a wall of resistance designed to grind
them down till they are silenced for good. This is not a problem unique to
India. Even in the post #MeToo world, there are those like Judge Robin Camp aka
the ‘Knees – Together Judge’ who in 2017, ruled against the 19 – year old complainant
citing that she could have prevented being raped if she had just kept her knees
together! This mind – boggling verdict was upheld in a retrial with a new
judge. There are others like Camp who find in favour of the aggressor brazenly
spouting bilge along similar lines. The issues resulting in the miscarriage of
justice when it comes to sex – related offenses are easy enough to pinpoint.
The abysmally low conviction rate is due
to how rape is largely perceived. Thanks to movies and cheap pornography, where
the violation of women is either mined for maximum titillation or the gore
factor, victims are either believed to be into it or are expected to kill
themselves, since suicide is the only ‘honourable’ course of action for a woman
whose ‘purity’ has been sullied. Those ‘unnatural’ creatures who refuse to shut
up, opting to file cases against perpetrators, demanding justice are seen as
uppity harridans who are routinely retraumatized, accused of promiscuity,
threatened, and disbelieved. It doesn’t help that in a world where fake news is
peddled as the truth and increasingly leftist/rightist ideology – driven
journalism where the detached commitment to reporting the facts alone has
become an obsolete practise, it is easy enough to dismiss survivors as making
it all up for their five seconds of fame or levelling false charges as revenge
against former boyfriends after ugly breakups.
The burden of proof rests with the accuser
and in most cases, bulletproof evidence that sexual violence occurred is
impossible to produce. Mostly, it comes down to a ‘He said, She said’ scenario.
Many powerful defendants have no trouble quashing the cases even when there are
multiple complainants and strike back by filing defamation cases against those
who named and shamed them publicly.
The legal system designed by men for men,
is stacked against the survivors. It takes forever for a case to make it to the
courts, requiring the expenditure of money, time and effort. Most back off
unable to withstand the bullying of aggressive lawyers and public censure.
Those who don’t are more likely to be claimed by old age before a verdict is
delivered. And even, then it is unlikely to be favourable.
Women fighting for justice face
insurmountable challenges worsened by caste bias, illiteracy, poverty, rank
corruption and a legal system that fails them repeatedly. But now more than
ever it is imperative to keep fighting the odds. To do that we must never give
up and add our voices to those of the brave women who refuse to be silenced though
they have everything to lose.
This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express.