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Lack of female public prosecutors at Chandigarh special court a concern for sexual abuse victims

Out of the total 22 public prosecutors at the Chandigarh district courts, including the deputy district attorneys, only two are female.

punjab Updated: Aug 18, 2017 11:12 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
female public prosecutors,Chandigarh special court,sexual abuse
Some male advocates agreed that there should be a female prosecutor to represent rape victims. (Representative image )

Victims of sexual harassment and rape await not only justice, but also dignity during court trials.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, under which an accused can be punished for sexual assault, harassment and pornography involving a child (below 18 years), highlights the importance of ‘sensitive’ and ‘child-friendly’ environment for juvenile victims.

Guidelines of the POCSO Act
  • The special court shall ensure that the child is not exposed in any way to the accused at the time of recording of the evidence, while at the same time ensuring that the accused is in a position to hear the statement of the child and communicate with his advocate.
  • The statement of the child shall be recorded at the residence of the child or at a place where he usually resides or at the place of his choice and as far as practicable by a woman police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector.
  • In case the victim is a girl child, the medical examination shall be conducted by a woman doctor.
  • The special court may, if it considers necessary, permit frequent breaks for the child during the trial.
  • The special court shall create a child-friendly atmosphere by allowing a family member, a guardian, a friend or a relative, in whom the child has trust or confidence, to be present in the court.
  • The special court shall ensure that the child is not called repeatedly to testify in the court.
  • The special court shall not permit aggressive questioning or character assassination of the child and ensure that dignity of the child is maintained at all times during the trial.
  • The special court shall complete the trial, as far as possible, within a period of one year from the date of taking cognizance of the offence

Out of the total 22 public prosecutors (PP), at the Chandigarh district courts including the deputy district attorneys, there are only two female PPs. Ironically, neither of these two female PPs are deployed for duty at the special court here for crime against women.

This, in turn, makes many victims of sexual assault, harassment and rape, uncomfortable while confiding the incident with male PPs. The court No 18 of additional district and sessions judge, Poonam R Joshi at the district courts, is dedicated exclusively for such cases. But, a lawyer named Atul Sethi, has been representing the victims for the past 18 months.The two female PPs including Maninder Kaur and Ritu Jain, who were earlier on duty in this court during the time of previous additional district and sessions judge, Anshu Shukla were also changed due to internal politics.

Sources said that the women lawyers get along with the previous judge and hence the decision was taken for “smooth functioning”. Ritu Jain said, “Now many courts have POCSO cases related trial on, so PPs have been notified in this regard.”

When asked why a female PP was not there in special court for rape cases, she had no answer. While Maninder Kaur was travelling and was unavailable for a comment.“The trauma of rape that we suffered is being revisited upon us with emotional, psychological, and mental torture. We are asked the same questions hundreds of times by male lawyers, which is torturous for us. The pain we go through is impossible to explain to men and for men to understand,” said a 19-year-old rape victim to HT.

A 14-year-old rape survivor from Dhanas reverberated the same thoughts. “Obviously it is very difficult for a rape victim to speak of the episode with a male, even if it be her father, brother, or lawyer. The case of the woman can be understood better by a female with whom the victim can talk without hesitation,”

Some of the male advocates even agreed that there should be a female prosecutor to represent rape victims.

“It is very difficult for the victim to relate her experience to a male advocate. It is also not easy for the male advocate,” said an advocate at the district courts. Gursharan Kaur, a criminal lawyer at the Punjab and Haryana High Court said, “At most, if there is a male public prosecutor, then he can be assisted by a female PP since victims’ comfort is very crucial in such cases.”

Legal remembrancer and in-charge of prosecution department, UT, Gagandeep Kaur, couldn’t be reached for a comment. Meanwhile, lawyers also pointed out that statements of minor rape victims in few cases were being recorded in the same court room, even when there is a special room on the ground floor in the building in Sector 43.

A lawyer requesting anonymity said, “Many a times, the judge follows the rule only for those below 12 years while the POCSO Act clearly specifies that minor is anyone below 18.”

The Act states that the accused shouldn’t be present during the time of recording of such statements, as due to pressure many victims of in-house rape crimes turn hostile in such cases.

First Published: Aug 18, 2017 11:12 IST