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Recently, entrepreneur Shruti Chaturvedi withdrew a sexual harassment case that had gone on for a very long time. Why is justice so slow for women reporting sexual harassment or assault?
Shruti Chaturvedi, the founder of the media platform Chaaipani has recently thrown a lot of light in a series of tweets about a sexual harassment case that she recently withdrew.
It is a telling commentary on how the legal system makes it difficult for citizens, especially women, to take up such cases and those like Shruti who do also eventually succumb to the apathy and the long-term harassment of the legal system; this sometimes seems to outweigh the initial injustice itself.
Shruti states how the first notice of hearing itself came after almost 6 years of the incident that had happened in Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad in 2013, to an address she no longer lives at, again pointing out to the biggest yet true cliché for our legal system – justice delayed is almost justice denied.
She says she is sharing this to applaud the courage of those women who pursue such cases for years in such an insensitive and lethargic system. She suggests online/long distance hearings using technology that could save the complainant the harassment of travel and being in the courts every time there is a hearing and faster trials where lawyers also don’t keep prolonging cases for more income.
Many people have reacted to the thread from various points of view. While some believe that such withdrawals make the criminals stronger and bolder others opine that when the process of justice itself punishes the complainant, what is the point!
More than 22 million cases are currently pending in India’s district courts. Six million of those have lasted longer than five years. Another 4.5 million are waiting to be heard in the high courts and more than 60,000 in the Supreme Court, according to the available data.
In Indian lower courts an average trial last six years. Earlier this year, a woman had withdrawn her complaint against CJI Gogoi of the Indian Supreme Court on similar grounds of seeing no hope of any justice being delivered.
What is sad and also alarming is that these are educated women who had access to the legal system, had awareness to recognise an act of harassment and report it as such and yet the system fails them miserably.
Amongst growing sexual violence in India, there are some women who have fought their cases for decades, and getting this justice takes an enormous amount of personal will and grit. These include the two sisters who won the case against the influential self-proclaimed godman Baba Ram Rahim.
On the other hand, there are many more women who do not pursue such cases (or rather, are forced to quit) because of the hostile system and society around them.
The new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, asked for setting up of fast-track courts so that a rape trial could be completed in two months. But in reality, delays are the norm and the obvious benefactor is the accused.
In cases of rape the two-finger test was barred as late as 2013 and the insensitivity was prevalent even among doctors and nurses who attend to the survivor and whose report is crucial evidence in such cases. In India records are largely non-digitised still. It is not uncommon for crucial papers to conspicuously go missing, letting the accused go free.
In families the taboo and stigma is unbearable and victim shaming as well as silencing is common. Sometimes money exchanges hands in lieu of silence and often rapists are asked to marry the victim (of the sexual assault) and all is deemed well.
A report about women approaching the judiciary indicates that there could be “structural barriers that prevent a woman’s access to justice.” In the recent Unnao Rape case also we saw an alleged intimidation taken to the extreme and the survivor had an almost fatal accident which seemed staged to silence her.
Human Rights watch had also said in a report titled “Everyone Blames Me”- Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India” that rape survivors in India “face significant barriers to obtaining justice and critical support services.”
It seems it is still a long journey ahead till these lacunas in justice are bridged and speedy and hassle-free justice reaches Indian women.
Picture credits: Pexels
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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