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Righting a wrong

Righting a wrong
Highlights

Three cheers are in order for the Supreme Court for rejecting any compromise in rape cases, upholding the dignity of the woman victim, under all circumstances. But if there is room for a fourth cheer, the apex court deserves it.

Three cheers are in order for the Supreme Court for rejecting any compromise in rape cases, upholding the dignity of the woman victim, under all circumstances. But if there is room for a fourth cheer, the apex court deserves it. For, it has corrected a grave error by another apex court bench that had in February 2011 set aside a Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict.

It had fallen victim to “public morality” and legitimised a compromise between a gang-rape victim and three convicts. "There should be no mediation and no compromise in rape cases, a woman's body is her temple," the bench headed by Justice Deepak Mishra said on Wednesday, adding that such a compromise “lacks sensitivity on the part of those promoting a settlement.”

The courts cannot take “a soft approach” on the issue, the bench said, describing as “a spectacular error” what a lower court in Madhya Pradesh had ruled in accepting a compromise with the violator agreeing to marry the victim. It is to be fervently hoped that Justice Mishra’s ruling would stay effectively in force.

Only a week back, Justice P Devadass of the Madras High Court asked a man, found guilty of raping a minor and sentenced to seven years, to “settle the matter by mediation.” Ignoring that the victim was a minor, the court resorted to alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, pointing out that “even in Islam, Hinduism and Christianity, there are instances of solving the disputes in a non-belligerent manner. The result of it is very good because there is no victor, no vanquished.”

Our fervent hope, again, is that this ruling is challenged and a bench like that of Justice Mishra rejects it. Citing instances of various faiths, apparently of the distant past when tribal laws and Kangaroo courts prevailed, cannot work in this century. The willingness to compromise comes not from a sense of guilt, a sense of social responsibility or even peer pressures.

It is meant to hoodwink the law, escape punishment or cut short the sentence. The courts, and authorities at all levels, need to understand this. Luckily, legal experts and social activists have spoken out against compromise. But the view of an unnamed Tamil Nadu policeman is most telling: “would he (the rapist) have sought a compromise had he been acquitted?” There are also questions like, what if the rapist is already married and has a family? Would be the victim’s social and marital status then be – of a mistress?”

Compromises are not new to rape cases. Records show that it is often enforced through the law of evidence where witnesses turn hostile, leaving the victim helpless. Courts and community leaders opt for it reasoning that the violated woman would never be ‘normal’ and get social acceptance.

A marriage ‘restores’ her ‘chastity.’ Such compromises are deals between the convicts and the victim’s male relations. The consent of the victim, who is seen as the community’s ‘property,’ is not taken. Her trauma does not matter to the society. This is travesty of justice.

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