Marrying Rapist Punishes the Victim
Allahabad High Court Justice Dinesh Kumar, granted bail without expressing any opinion on the merit of the case
The Allahabad High Court granted bail to a man accused of raping and making a minor girl pregnant. The court ordering the accused to marry the girl within 15 days appears shocking and cruel.
But sadly this case is not an exception. In recent months alone there have been a number of cases where rapist of minors have been shown such consideration by the special courts set up under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POSCO) 2012 or even High Courts as in this case.
The single judge bench of Allahabad High Court Justice Dinesh Kumar, on October 10, 2022, granted bail without expressing any opinion on the merit of the case. As per the FIR the 17-year old minor victim was "enticed away" by the accused on the intervening night of March 22-23, 2022 in Lakhimpur Khiri. She has since delivered a baby girl. The accused has been in jail since April 10 this year.
Granting the bail the court said the accused "will perform the marriage within 15 days from the date of release with the prosecutrix and get the same registered before the appropriate officer within a period of one month from the date of performing the marriage…He will give all rights to the prosecutrix and his child as wife and daughter" observed the court.
Days after the Allahabad High Court judgment came another single judge order of Justice Bharati Dangre of the Bombay High Court on October 12 granting bail to a 26-year-old man arrested on charges of rape on the condition that he would marry the rape survivor, who is currently untraceable if she is found within a year!
But the case of rapist ex-priest of Kerala Robin Vadakkumchery is really unparalleled for the extent the patriarchal system can go to protect the rape accused especially if he is a religious figure.
In 2016 the Catholic priest had raped a 16-year old student of his institution making her pregnant. When he came under pressure after she delivered a child the rape accused made the girl's father confess that he had raped his own daughter and made her pregnant.
Subsequent DNA tests proved otherwise and the ex-priest was arrested near the Kochi airport when he was about to flee the country. He was sentenced to 20 years under Section 376 (2) applicable in cases where a "Public servant takes advantage of his official position" and commits a crime of rape.
In 2020 he sought a two month bail from the Kerala High Court to marry the rape survivor as she had become of legally marriageable age in order "to ensure the welfare of the child". The girl and her parents agreed.
However, the Kerala government opposed the marriage plea and the Supreme Court dismissed it. Later the Vatican dismissed Vadakkumchery from priesthood.
But still on December 1, 2021, the Kerala High court halved the former priest's jail term from 20 delivered by the trial court to 10 years after accepting his plea to charge him under Section 376 (1).
While the ex-priest could not get relief by marrying the survivor a rape survivor in Bihar's Sasaram was not so lucky. In April 2022 a Special POSCO court in Sasaram acquitted a man accused of raping a minor girl in 2019 after he married the survivor as directed by the court. The court also ordered the Bihar government to pay Rs 1.25 lakh as compensation to the new bride.
One can go on listing one shocking case after another. What needs to be reflected upon is the mindset which legitimizes such "marry your rapist" trend which is not recognized under any law. Yet it continues formally in the courts and informally within families and khap and panchayats of elders. It is no justice as it completely denies the rape survivor any agency or justice.
Such marriages backed by the police, courts, panchayats and parents are a ploy for convicted or accused rapists to evade punishment.
There is a startling 2017 case of a 19-year old rape survivor in Delhi filing a rape case. She had contacted the women helpline and Delhi Commission for women to help her file a case.
When she went to the police station to register a complaint against the accused he assured the police that he would marry her in two years. The Assistant Commissioner of Police then asked the rape survivor what she wanted, when she said that she wanted justice she was told that if she wanted to live respectfully in society then she must marry the rapist. Left with no choice the rape survivor agreed and didn't file a complaint.
They finally got married in 2019 and after two months he abandoned her telling her that he had married her only to escape rape charges. The woman is not fighting a case under IPC Section 498A (cruelty by husband or his family).
It is no secret that in patriarchal societies the stigma around rape stems from the fact that a female's virginity is highly prized and a girl/woman raped is believed to have little chances of marrying. Sexual assault is not seen as a crime committed by the accused, but as a shameful act which leaves the girl/woman 'dishonored' and her name and the name of her family/clan/village blemished.
The entire law enforcement machinery is swayed by this stigma forcing the rape survivor to marry her rapist in order to save her and her family from disrepute.
It is no surprise that in India despite strict rape laws and the POSCO Act prescribing death as punishment for rape the conviction rate is merely 27.2 percent according to the NCRB as most cases are "settled" through such compromises.
To challenge such an inhuman resolution to rape the Supreme Court should take suo moto cognisance of the recent cases. A strong gender just legislation making such marriages illegal would go a long way.
But no law is worth the paper it is written on unless it is accepted by society and those responsible for its implementation. That is where the government should continuously sensitise the law enforcing machinery from the ground level to the top to view rape as a punishable criminal offence and not add insult to injury of the rape survivor by proposing marriage to the rapist.