The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre creates ‘character’ shield for rape victims

New Delhi, Nov. 11: The Centre has decided to amend the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 to prevent rape victims from being asked questions on their “character”.

Since the early 1980s, women’s groups have been asking the government to amend the law as rape victims are made to face humiliating questions in court that seek to establish a link and “justify” the assault by pointing a finger at their “moral character”.

The proposed scrapping of Section 155 (4) of the Evidence Act, to be ratified at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, aims to rectify this.

The amendment, moved on the recommendation of the Law Commission and the National Commission for Women, says there should be no “unrestrained questioning” that can destroy the reputation or self-respect of a victim. It suggests scrapping Section 155 (4) that allowed this line of questioning.

“It is a welcome move,” said Kirti Singh, a lawyer with the All India Democratic Women’s Association. “Almost all rape victims are asked questions relating to their character and sexual history,” she stressed. This achieves two results — first, the victim is intimidated and second, the jury ends up being prejudiced against the victim.

“Even if there is no past sexual history, the lawyer will try to paint a picture in which to point a finger at the victim. They will make innuendoes and try to prejudice the court. The victim on her part ends up feeling guilty,” Singh said. Very often, rape victims find it difficult to face the questioning in court.

Women’s organisations have also been demanding amendments to the law dealing with rape.

According to them, the rate of conviction is so low that it almost defeats the purpose of the legislation.

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