While a lawyer is within his rights to employ all available means to win a favourable verdict for his client, one would still expect him to follow an ethical code of conduct while making his arguments. Recent examples, unfortunately, point towards a different reality. Ram Jethmalani, the defence counsel for godman Asaram Bapu in the sexual assault case on a 16-year-old girl, argued on Tuesday that the victim was suffering from a chronic disease “which draws a woman to a man”.
Even if one were to go by this bizarre and insensitive argument, Mr Jethmalani seems to have overlooked the fact that according to law the sexual history of a victim of rape cannot be used to defend the accused.
Mr Jethmalani’s comment came a few days after AP Singh, the defence lawyer for two of the four accused in the December 16 gang rape case, said he would burn alive his daughter if she stayed out late with a man or had premarital sex. Mr Singh made this observation after the court had awarded the death sentence to the four accused and seemed to be suggesting that the paramedical student was ‘asking for it’ because she was out ‘with a man’ at an odd hour.
Mr Singh should know that, in this country, this is not a crime and definitely should not invite sexual assault. Nothing should.
Lawyers are free to choose their clients and defend any case in court. However, such tasteless comments reflect the mindset of a certain section and by making them Mr Singh has reinforced that train of thought.
To say that misogyny is endemic in all quarters of our society is to state a truism. But surely there is a great need to develop a mechanism within the legal setup to penalise and thus discourage lawyers from making statements that demean victims and by extension all Indian women. The Bar Council of Delhi has asked Mr Singh’s for a clarification. Perhaps, it should also take note of similar comments by other more powerful lawyers, including Mr Jethmalani.