In their everyday experience, most women in India grapple with patriarchal attitudes at their homes, workplaces and social circles. But, when such regressive signals emanate from the highest court of the land, which is supposed to protect the rights of women, the implications are deeply troubling and frustrating. Chief Justice of India SA Bobde’s remark asking a Maharashtra government employee, seeking protection from arrest in a rape case, whether he is willing to marry the survivor smacks of utter insensitivity and represents a retrograde idea of marriage as a payoff for the trauma of rape. Here is a case where the accused had repeatedly raped a minor schoolgirl and threatened to eliminate her family members if they approached the police. By asking the rape accused whether he would marry the victim, the Supreme Court bench has trivialised a serious crime, suggesting that raping a minor is okay as long as the rapist marries the girl later. One wonders whether marriage automatically grants amnesty for all crimes of sexual violence. It is disturbing that India’s justice system has a poor track record when it comes to dealing with violence against women. Unfortunately, such grossly patriarchal remarks from the highest court of the land can lead to further silencing of girls. And, to the rapists, they send a message that marriage is a licence to rape; and that by obtaining such a licence, the rapist can post facto decriminalise and legalise his act.
It is not the first time that such an insensitive suggestion has come from the courts. In July last year, the Orissa high court had given bail to a man accused of raping a minor to facilitate his marriage with the victim who had turned an adult by that time. In another case, the Madhya Pradesh high court granted bail to a molestation accused last year on the condition that he would request the victim to tie him a ‘rakhi’. It must be pointed out that under the law of the land, rape is a non-compoundable crime, one that cannot be diluted or mitigated by any settlement reached outside court. And yet, compromises are routinely peddled by police, village councils and lower courts in rape cases. The victims are often coerced to marry their violators due to fear of stigma, pressure from family and society. Unfortunately, courts end up giving sanction to such marriages. The CJI’s remarks could perpetuate this inglorious tradition and derail the progress made by several judgments that affirm the dignity and autonomy of women as equal citizens. One can understand such a suggestion only in cases involving adult live-in partners as it could be seen as an instance of a relationship gone sour.
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