It was an eye-opener for Delhi’s trial court judges as they heard a rape survivor, an acid attack victim, a transgender and an activist working with deaf sexual assault victims recount their experiences of deposing before the court. All of them complained of a hostile court atmosphere which made it difficult for them to record their statements.
This rare interaction of the judges with the victims of sexual assault is the first-of-its-kind initiative taken by a Delhi High Court committee headed by Justice Gita Mittal. Part of the vulnerable witness program, the two-day workshop at Saket district courts focused on making courtroom practices responsive towards victims of sexual offences.
Under the programme, the court has already constituted vulnerable witness courtrooms in Saket and Karkardooma courts — the first one in the country — that provide atmosphere conducive for the victims to record their statements.
Child rights activist Vidya Reddy, who spoke on how a trial should be conducted in child sexual abuse cases, felt judges themselves get uncomfortable recording evidence in such cases. “This barrier has to break. And it can be done only when we talk about sexuality in a free way. There is a need to understand child development in terms of linguistic development. Judges should not feel ashamed if a child recounts the traumatic sexual assault vividly,” she told HT.
Forensic expert Jagadeesh Naryan Reddy emphasised on the need to interpret medical evidence more scientifically. “There is a traditional approach to interpret a medico-legal case. For example, a case might end in acquittal if there are no injuries recorded in the medical report. But prosecution and judges need to go beyond this and analyse evidence such as whether the victim was prescribed a particular medicine after the assault, why and for how long,” he added.
“We really need to broaden our understanding in such cases,” said Arun C Rao, who works with deaf sexual assault victims. He recalled how judges misinterpret sign language and often refuse to accept the translator’s version. “A deaf person may be able to describe a situation in three signs. But that doesn’t imply the translator has to end in three words,” he said.
Those who attended the workshop told HT that such sessions will enable them to treat sexual offence cases more sensitively. “The interactions also gave us an opportunity to speak about the problems we face in deciding such cases and will help us solve them,” said a judicial officer.