sexual violence

How the police pressured a young woman into taking back her rape complaint

Despite reforms after 2012 Delhi gang rape, India’s police continue to let down survivors of sexual violence.

“The police beat me up, detained my father, and threatened to lock him up under false charges if I didn’t tell the magistrate that I had filed a false complaint of rape, so I did as they said,” Kajal said of her ordeal after she reported being raped by three men in Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh in September 2015.

Kajal (whose name has been changed to protect her identity), 23, had hitched a ride with a male acquaintance on September 14, 2015, to take food to her sick mother who was at a temple in a nearby village. Kajal says the man and two of his friends raped her and left her by the side of the road. Her screams drew passersby. One of them got in touch with her father, who took her to the police to report the crime. The police filed a complaint of gang rape and took her for a medical test.

A day after she filed the rape complaint, the police asked her father to bring Kajal to the police station to be escorted to depose before a magistrate. But at the police station, Kajal said, the police detained her father. After slapping her and beating her with a stick, they demanded that she deny her allegations and made her sign several blank pages. She said she was terrified into lying to the magistrate that she had made the complaint at her father’s behest.

Kajal said the police also threatened her father with arrest under false charges if he did not sign a statement that she had filed a false complaint. They beat her father and detained him for two more days.

The case of Kajal demonstrates how even five years after the legal and other changes spurred by protests over the gang rape and murder of a young student, Jyoti Singh, in Delhi, these reforms are yet to be fully realised.

Since the reforms were initiated, more women have been reporting sexual assault and rape. According to the latest available data, there has been a 39% increase in the number of rape complaints.

However, as part of an investigation into 21 cases of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment after the legal changes took effect, Human Rights Watch found that survivors of rape continue to encounter humiliation, victim-blaming and distrust at police stations. Police still resist filing the First Information Reports, especially if the victim, like Kajal, is from an economically or socially marginalised community. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 made police failure to register a complaint of rape a crime, punishable with up to two years in prison. But there is no record of a police official being charged under the provision.

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Credit: Human Rights Watch

Need for change

In some cases, like in Kajal’s, the police blatantly misuse their powers to threaten women and their families to drop or settle rape complaints.

Kajal, with the help of a local civil society organisation, which offered her legal help and psychosocial counseling, wrote to several senior police officials and the State Human Rights Commission, detailing police intimidation, but did not receive any reply.

In December 2015, the police filed a closure report, saying their investigation found that Kajal and her father had filed a false complaint because of a land dispute with the main accused. However, the chief judicial magistrate disagreed with the closure report and asked the investigating officer to depose before the court. Kajal also testified in the court in November 2016, saying she had been forced by the police to lie in her earlier statement. The case is pending resolution.

After she was raped, Kajal was abandoned by her husband and his family. She now lives with her parents, who were forced to move following threats from the accused, villagers’ taunts, and, finally, eviction by the landlord.

“I did the right thing by reporting but the police officers did not help me get justice,” Kajal said. “Everyone blames me. They say, ‘Her character is bad, that is why this happened to her.’”

In light of such damning evidence of police failings, the Union home ministry needs to ensure that police response to complaints of violence against women, including resistance to registering rape complaints, is at the top of the agenda for the annual conference of directors general of police in December. The conference is an important avenue for establishing greater Center-state coordination on law and order, and to review issues of police accountability.

Today, India needs leadership and action to review progress in implementing the laws dealing with violence against women, and to ensure survivors get the justice and dignity they deserve.

This is the first in a three-part series looking at barriers to justice, healthcare, effective legal aid and other support services for sexual assault survivors in India, despite stronger laws and policies coming into effect since the 2012 gang rape and murder in Delhi.

Jayshree Bajoria is the author of the recently released Human Rights Watch report, Everyone Blames Me: Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.