Opinion: India does not respect victims of sexual harassment | Reviews | DW



In May, an Indian court in the coastal state of Goa acquitted Tarun Tejpal, the former editor of a major news magazine, of the rape of a young colleague in a high-profile case that made headlines newspapers all over the country.

Tanika Godbole is a Delhi-based DW correspondent

During the trail, old emails from 2013 resurfaced where he apologized to the survivor for his behavior and described the event as an “error in judgment” and an “unfortunate incident”.

In his final statements in court, Tejpal, who claimed to have been falsely accused, called the incident a “drunken joke”.

Tejpal was the accused of the crime in 2013, but the burden of proving it was on the survivor. It was she who was tried and accused of not “behaving like a victim” by judge Kshama Joshi. The court also said she had exhibited “unnatural” behavior in continuing to keep in touch with Tejpal.

Survivor on defense

None of this is surprising. When it comes to cases of sexual harassment in India, the survivor is always on the defense, forced to relive the events of the abuse repeatedly during questioning.

Unlike any other crime, the burden of proof lies with the woman. She is the one who has to prove her truth, instead of the person accused of committing the crime.

It wasn’t too long ago that we were celebrating Priya Ramani’s victory in a libel case – a victory for India’s #MeToo movement. She was acquitted by a New Delhi court of criminal defamation charges for accusing former editor-turned-politician MJ Akbar of sexual harassment in 2018, when she was a young professional working under him. While this was a good precedent, we seem to have forgotten that this was once again the woman defending her right to speak out against sexual harassment.

Basic respect for women is still lacking

It is shockingly common for survivors to be asked about their clothing, behavior, sexual history, etc., when such cases are taken to court.

In June 2020, when a court in the Indian state of Karnataka granted the defendant bail, the judge declared that it was “improper for an Indian woman” to fall asleep after the crime. “This is not how our women react when they are delighted,” said Judge Krishna S Dixit, as reported by India today.

And, in a 2017 case that showed a shocking lack of understanding of the rules of consent, the Delhi High Court acquitted a director accused of rape on the grounds that the woman’s name was too “weak” to have any benefit. importance.

After the Delhi gang rape in 2012 that rocked the whole country, India made several incremental changes to its laws on sexual harassment and rape. The definitions of rape and consent have been broadened and developed, and the penalty for the crime has been increased. It is undeniable that progress has been made.

However, the fundamental respect for consent and the autonomy of women have not yet found a permanent place in the minds of the judiciary, which still seems to be guided by an orthodox, regressive and patriarchal conception of sex crimes.

99% of cases go unreported

Until the courts begin to view survivors of sex crimes as victims, there is little hope. Courts need to understand the courage it takes for women to come to them to seek justice.

Indian women are well aware of the consequences they face in order to express themselves. High-profile decisions like the Tejpal verdict leave little room for respect for the fundamental dignity and privacy rights of survivors. Defense lawyers and courts often add false accusations as an excuse for not believing women, even though studies have repeatedly shown that these are extremely rare.

It’s no wonder that almost 99% of sexual harassment and rape cases go unreported in India. If India wants its women to feel safe, it must place the burden of proof where it is: on the culprits.


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