Chapter 3: Who needs protection?; Public perception needs a transformation

Remya Harikumar

About sexual assault, this is the prevalent view in society – ‘Good’ men who have a clean image and reputation among the public will never commit any devious act! You and I might be maintaining a good relationship but does that mean I won’t commit a sexual crime on another person? Certainly not. One would be leading a healthy sexual relationship with a person but he could also abuse another woman sexually at the same time. The public ignores this fact and hail him as a good man. How is it justified when an accused’s arrest is deliberately delayed only because ‘he is a nice person’?

Series 3

Representational Image | Mathrubhumi

I want to live my life

“That incident happened when I was 14. Now I am 26. And I am yet to be called to a court for hearing. Don’t I have a life to live? Earlier, the situation did not really pose a concern for me as I was too young to understand its severity. Now I have to face the question from everyone, ‘why are you not getting married?’ So, all I want is to close the case somehow without taking it forward. I know everything will be over if I change my statement. I am so fed up!”

These are the words of a survivor who was forced to move out of the state after a sexual assault. Though the FIR was filed in 2013, nothing came out of it. She went to the police station to enquire about the case’s status and found that the Charge Sheet was yet to be submitted. Her ordeal had started when she was staying at a relative’s house. A person who was brother-like to her took advantage of the situation and abused her sexually. She became pregnant. Her parents took her out of Kerala and aborted the pregnancy. They kept the incident a secret. By this time the accused got married, but he tried to abuse her again. Neighbours and relatives got wind of it. And the girl absconded. On the parents’ complaint about her missing, police investigated and found the girl. She revealed what had happened and was brought before the Magistrate. Then she was taken to Athani in Vanchiyoor and later moved to Nirbhaya Home. Even after leaving the shelter home, she was kept in the dark about the case. That was when she went directly to the police station.

“The police just refused to tell me anything. In fact, they were quite rude to me. ‘We will summon you when the time comes’ was their harsh response. The abortion was done in the 6th week of pregnancy, but in the FIR the police has made it the 6th month as per the accused’s version. Because of this mistake, my parents were made culprits in the case. The charge sheet was filed recently and my parents were summoned to the court. The case gets postponed to yet another date every time. My parents are staying outside the state and they can’t afford the expenses of coming to Kerala for the trial when the court summons. The fee for the lawyer is another burden. My father now insists that he has not committed any crime and refused to come to court. And so, a warrant got issued. My mother and siblings just refuse to talk to me.” Totally alienated from her family, this survivor is now living with her grandmother.

Let go of all prejudices ‘

The authorities maintain that police’s attitude towards survivors has changed significantly compared to earlier times. But survivors refuse to agree. So do activists fighting for them. Women Help Desks are there to create the impression of women-friendly police stations, but what greets women complainants in many stations is the Help Desk board and a few vacant chairs. True, shortage of manpower is a major challenge for the police force. But that does not justify their inhuman behavior. And women police are no exception. In fact, the dissection of the complainant’s character begins at the police station.

Don’t dilute the statement, please

Have the police accepted a bribe from the accused? Public Prosecutors puts it like this - take a look at 161, the report filed by the police based on the statement of the witness under Section 161 of CRPC, and you will know! Police personnel won’t tell a complainant directly that they will not investigate the issue. Instead, they will be so indifferent that many women are forced to withdraw their complaints. In many cases, the police will deliberately delay the accused’s arrest.

“If the police investigate the case sincerely, the 161 will be a genuine one. There is no sense in blaming the survivor for letting out some details in her first police statement. Especially when she had to undergo a violent assault. For her, it is not easy to remember each and every detail after such a harrowing experience. That is why it is important to get a second statement after she regains her composure. But if the police decide to lean towards the accused at that stage, the prosecutor will have a tough time in court,” says a Prosecutor who wishes to stay unnamed in this report. The survivor has to explain everything as stated in the police report. If her testimony in court contradicts the points in 161, it will affect the case adversely.

We do have police officers who go the extra mile to bring justice to survivors. Their efforts should be remembered. Like those of S. Harishankar who led the police investigation in the assault against a nun, built a water-tight case and fought for her till the end.

You call Kerala a woman-friendly state?
Didi Damodharan – Script writer- feminist

Once, a woman, violently thrashed by her drunk husband, went running to a police station in Kozhikode. Not a single policewoman was there. What more, she was treated very rudely by those in duty. Imagine a woman, injured and bleeding, going for a medical examination alone at midnight! The police were not at all sympathetic towards that woman who came to them fearing for her life and seeking help. Even when she explained what happened to her, all they wanted to know were details not related to her ordeal.

Do you call this state women-friendly? Police stations are more like clubs exclusive for men. When their merriment is disturbed by the occasional complaints, they would do everything possible to cut them out at that initial stage itself.

Police is on the track of change
Hari Shankar, AIG of Police

Our judicial system is still prejudiced about a few things – a rape case should be like this, a survivor should behave in such a manner… and so on. These notions are still much in existence, but as the society progresses, there would be changes and they have to be accepted. People are yet to have a clear understanding of ‘consent’. Being friends or chatting through WhatsApp should not be taken as the consent for having sex. Similarly, there should not be hard and fast rules about how a survivor should behave.
The Criminal Procedure Code of 1860 was given an amendment only in 2013. Police personnel are effectively trained on legal procedures. More and more highly-educated youngsters are now joining the force. And women too are coming in through open recruitment. Police force is indeed on the path of transformation.

Chastity: It is high time we changed our concepts
P.E Usha
(Former director, Kerala Mahila Samakhya Samithi)

People so considerate and responsible when it comes to their love for or physical relationship with a ‘chaste’ girl. But once a girl is sexually assaulted and loses her ‘chastity’, the situation changes. Anyone can subject her to any amount of insult and humiliation. That is what we see happening in our state now. Our society still gives undue importance to chastity. The girl is blamed for the assault when it is not her fault at all. This situation indicates the failure of our state. If we want to offer a survivor-friendly environment, these outdated concepts have to be changed. And this transformation should reflect in families as well as the judicial system and procedures. Remember Sojan, the police officer who made derogatory remarks about the child victims of Walayar sexual assault case?

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