Rape Complainant writes to CJI Bobde on ‘insensitive’ behaviour of Session Judge

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The 22-year-old woman who accused ET Now anchor Varun Hiremath of rape has written a letter to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, bringing his attention to the additional sessions judge’s insensitive, inappropriate and traumatising behaviour during an anticipatory bail hearing in the case.

The woman has accused Hiremath of rape, sexual assault and confinement. The case was filed in late February this year. Hiremath has been absconding since the case was filed.

In a letter dated March 11, 2021, the woman has referenced an anticipatory bail hearing at the Patiala House court on March 10, 2021. During the hearing, she says, the counsel for the accused repeatedly made disparaging remarks and jokes at her expense – and instead of putting a stop to this disrespectful and insensitive behaviour, the judge, Sanjay Khanagwal, laughed along.

“During the hearing, the counsel representing the accused, one Mr. Vijay Aggarwal repeatedly made false, gravely humiliating and disparaging remarks against me and assassinated my character throughout the course of the hearing by slut-shaming me. All this happened in the presence of the Judge, Sh. Sanjay Khanagwal, who to my shock, instead of reprimanding Mr. Aggarwal and restraining him from doing so, laughed with him, on multiple instances.“

While the accused’s counsel’s behaviour was “horrendously traumatic”, the woman continues, she was more “shaken and ashamed” by the fact that the judge too was party to that behaviour. The judge “…further aggravated my misery by laughing at Mr. Aggarwal’s filthy arguments aimed at disparaging my character,” she writes to CJI Bobde.

“I was traumatized after the rape incident, and with great difficulty I had gathered the courage to approach the Police and pursue this Complaint in order to ensure that the accused is held accountable. However, given the painful innuendos aimed at scandalizing me, and the deeply humiliating remarks aimed to sully my character made by the Counsel for the accused and the participation of the Judge, it has further aggravated my misery and trauma. The course of the events yesterday has totally shaken my faith in the functioning of our criminal justice system. Sir, I deeply regret pursuing my complaint in the vain hope of getting justice.”

While naming other witnesses in the court who saw the way she was treated, the woman tells CJI Bobde that she is writing to him “in the hope that you will take appropriate steps to ensure that no other victim has to undergo the same humiliation and trauma that I have suffered – simply because I expected decency and justice for my suffering”.

As sources reported,the woman’s letter was officially received by the CJI’s office and that she has since been assured that an internal inquiry into her complaint will be held.

Hiremath has been charged with sections 376 (punishment of offence of rape),342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code. Hiremath is the son of a Mumbai-based businessman who owns a pharmaceutical company. On March 12, the Patiala house court rejected his bail application.

The woman’s letter to CJI Bobde was sent just a week before the Supreme Court issued guidelines aimed at ensuring subordinate courts avoid passing insensitive bail orders in cases involving sexual violence. In that case, the court voided a Madhya Pradesh high court order asking a rape accused to tie a rakhi on the complainant as a bail condition.

While voiding the order, the Supreme Court put in place seven guidelines for lower courts to follow in cases involving sexual assault:

(a) Bail conditions should not mandate, require or permit contact between the accused and the victim. Such conditions should seek to protect the complainant from any further harassment by the accused;

(b) Where circumstances exist for the court to believe that there might be a potential threat of harassment of the victim, or upon apprehension expressed, after calling for reports from the police, the nature of protection shall be separately considered and appropriate order made, in addition to a direction to the accused not to make any contact with the victim;

(c) In all cases where bail is granted, the complainant should immediately be informed that the accused has been granted bail and copy of the bail order made over to him/her within two days;

(d) Bail conditions and orders should avoid reflecting stereotypical or patriarchal notions about women and their place in society, and must strictly be in accordance with the requirements of the Cr. PC. In other words, discussion about the dress,behavior, or past “conduct” or “morals” of the prosecutrix, should not enter the verdict granting bail;

(e) The courts while adjudicating cases involving gender related crimes, should not suggest or entertain any notions (or encourage any steps) towards compromises between the prosecutrix and the accused to get married, suggest or mandate mediation between the accused and the survivor, or any form of compromise as it is beyond their powers and jurisdiction;

(f) Sensitivity should be displayed at all times by judges, who should ensure that there is no traumatization of the prosecutrix, during the proceedings, or anything said during the arguments, and

(g) Judges especially should not use any words, spoken or written, that would undermine or shake the confidence of the survivor in the fairness or  impartiality of the court.

Going by the contents of the woman’s letter to CJI Bobde, Judge Sanjay Khanagwal appears to go against at least two of these guidelines – (f) and (g) – even though he later rejected Hiremath’s anticipatory bail plea. Whether that will lead to action against him remains to be seen.

CJI Bobde himself had drawn the ire of women’s rights activists and others recently, for reportedly asking if a rape accused if he will marry his victim. The CJI later claimed that his question had been misrepresented, and said that he has “given highest respect to womanhood”.

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