Recently, a Division Bench of Hon’ble Supreme Court, while pronouncing its Judgement in a 1997 gang-rape case, observed that “Even assuming that the woman was of easy virtue, she has a right of refuse to submit herself to sexual intercourse to anyone.” Restoring the ten years jail term awarded to the convicts by the Trial Court in the matter, by setting aside the 2009 Judgement of Delhi High Court, the Hon’ble Apex Court further observed that, “Even if the allegations of the accused that the woman is of immoral character are taken to be correct, the same does not give any right to the accused persons to commit rape on her ….”. The Hon’ble High Court had erred in setting the accused persons free by placing its reliance upon the allegations made against the victim accusing her of being a woman of bad character to doubt her version and to hold that a fabricated case has been made against the accused.
I recollect an incident of rape that took place in the national capital a few years back where the victim was abducted from outside a hotel past midnight on the new year eve and was sexually assaulted on a moving vehicle by the accused. The news which made the breaking news on almost all city news channels on the first day of the new year was, of course, shocking. However, the reports revealed that the victim was a bar-dancer and was performing in a late-night event hosted by the hotel to celebrate the new year eve. This piece of information instantly alleviated the feeling of outrage caused by the headline and I felt rather relieved.
The err on the part of High Court in the above 1997 rape case verdict seems to reflect the similar mindset that I had while feeling ‘relieved’ once I came to know that the rape victim was a bar-dancer. Does the fact that the victim was a bar-dancer or, for that matter, a woman of immoral character, as alleged in the 1997 gang-rape case, in any manner, gives right to the accused to rape her? Then, why did I feel relieved?
I felt relieved because I was badly in need of some sort of ‘reason’ (that this woman’s modesty was outraged) to reassure myself that the women of my family are safe; I needed to tell myself that such a thing would not happen to them as they are not like the woman in the news. I call myself a feminist, yet I too, in a way, look for some reason to blame the victim, not because of some patriarchal mindset, but to feed that ‘false sense of security’ about the women in my family. It’s really pathetic, but unfortunately true.