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A Blinkered Justice
Updated:Sep 25, 2017
 
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The Punjab and Haryana High Court’s written observations in an order last week in a Sonepat rape case, characterising the victim as a person with a “promiscuous attitude and a voyeuristic mind” are extremely disturbing. The case relates to a rape incident that took place in an institute of higher learning, leading to the conviction of the three accused by a lower court. The three had appealed for bail in the high court. In its order granting the bail and suspending the sentence, the bench used language about the young victim that feeds into the tendency of victim blaming and goes against all principles of natural justice. The observations are both surprising and disappointing.
 
 
In the last few years, the courts have been in the vanguard of the fight against crimes against women. It is thanks to the courts that India has today the Vishaka guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace. There have been several judgements by the Supreme Court restating the principles of justice and pointing out that rape is not just a crime against an individual but against society. The high court bench’s observations that the victim’s narrative, provides an “alternate story…of casual relationships with her friends, acquaintances, adventurism and experimentation in sexual encounters”, seek to suggest that the young woman enjoyed a certain comfort level with the offenders. But that is precisely why the rape in this case is even more horrific, because it shows a betrayal of trust and faith that the woman had reposed in the offenders. Rape is not about the sexuality of a woman, or about sexual intercourse; it is about non-consensual, forced sex, usually establishing a power asymmetry between the victim and the perpetrator. It is worth remembering that the Supreme Court has, in the past, refused to accept contextualisation as grounds for mitigation of the offence.
 
The circumstances drawn out by the high court that the “entire crass sequence actually is reflective of a degenerative mindset of the youth… mired in drugs, alcohol, casual sexual escapades” are specific to this case, and paint a context to the incident. The HC has gone to say that “it was essential to balance the concerns of the victim, demands of the society and law and element of reformatory and rehabilitative justice”. But if there is really a “nefarious world of youngsters” out there where, as the court notes in its judgement, there is no comprehension of relationships “based on respect and understanding”, it is all the more reason to offer greater protection of law to the victim. It cannot be a ground to sympathise with the perpetrators.
 
 
 
 
 
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