Women’s right to autonomy, justice | HT Editorial
A Supreme Court (SC) bench, headed by the Chief Justice of India, in a case involving the bail plea of a rape accused, held that it might consider his petition if he were willing to marry the survivor, a minor at the time of the incident. This is unacceptable. As International Women’s Day approaches, it is a reminder of how little autonomy women have over their bodies and life choices. Such judicial observations give sanction to the violence a rape survivor faces and strip her of her rights.
In this case, the girl was stalked by the accused, threatened with violence, and her family harassed. While the Bench made it clear it was not forcing the issue, the attempt was aimed at arriving at a “solution”, which if agreeable to the accused, not the survivor, stood to exonerate him. The rights of the survivor are protected under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, and this is what must be upheld. The fact that the survivor challenged the pre-arrest bail to the accused in a lower court shows that she wants to pursue justice. One wonders what might have happened had the accused responded positively to the court’s question (he didn’t because he is already married).
There must be a greater effort at gender sensitisation across all levels of the judiciary to prevent such attempts to grant amnesty for violent crimes against women. Women’s rights are non-negotiable and there can be no recourse to extra-judicial methods to address crimes such as rape by suggesting that the accused had a way out by marrying the survivor. The SC bench would do well to rethink its approach and ensure that all such future cases are dealt with strictly within the letter and spirit of the law.