When the highest constitutional court indicates that an offense of rape can be compounded or mitigated, contrary to the law, it sends a dangerous signal to all sex offenders that marrying the victim would grant them amnesty. The persistent prevalence of patriarchal prejudices and misogyny appears to have been in full display when the Chief Justice of India asked the serial rapist of a minor girl whether he would marry her.
The man to whom this question was posed was facing charges of penetrative sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and rape, criminal intimidation under Sections 376, 417, 506 of the Indian Penal Code. He had been accused of clandestinely entering the house of the victim-survivor, a distant relative, when she was alone, gagging and tying her hands and feet and raping her. The girl was studying in Class 9 then. He continued to rape her repeatedly, until she was in class 12, by intimidating and threatening to harm her and her family.
The victim has alleged that the accused used to follow her in his motorcycle carrying a petrol can and threatening to set her on fire. It was only when the girl tried to commit suicide that her family came to know about this horrific crime. When the uneducated mother of the victim, tried to register a police complaint, she was dissuaded from doing so by the mother of the accused and made to sign a stamped paper that the sexual relationship between the victim and the accused was consensual. The assaulter’s mother promised the mother of the victim that he would marry the victim when she attained majority. When the accused reneged on his promise of marriage, a complaint was filed under the POCSO Act.
The CJI reportedly told the lawyer for the accused, “If you want to marry we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail. You seduced the girl, raped her.” The CJI also said, “You should have thought before seducing and raping the young girl. You knew you are a government servant.”
The accused responded, “Initially I wanted to marry her, but she refused. Now I cannot as I am already married.” Applying minimum standards of sanity, would it not be safe to assume that a victim, if given a choice, would recoil with horror at the thought of an institutionalized relationship with her assaulter? Did the court believe that it was acting in the best interests of the affected woman and were there conflicting interests in the first place?
To put it in crude terms, “Your body has been violated and for your good, I will ensure that he who forcibly and brutally touched your body without your consent will restore your dignity, undo the damage to your reputation through the offender’s gracious act of accepting you as his wife,” is what the court seems to indicate.
When the highest constitutional court indicates that an offense of rape can be compounded or mitigated, contrary to the law, it sends a dangerous signal to all sex offenders that marrying the victim would grant them amnesty. This normalization and trivialization of sexual offenses will only embolden offenders, deter the filing of complaints, cause further victimization of the survivor and lead to loss of confidence in the justice redressal system.