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Don’t judge this book by its cover

- Ex-high court arbiter dabbles in storytelling, pens first English novel to condemn rape

The pen is perhaps mightier than the gavel.

Having spent more than three decades in courtrooms — from the munsif court to Jharkhand High Court — a septuagenarian former judge has taken to writing against rape, a crime that shames humanity.

Justice Vikramaditya Prasad’s debut English novel, The Undaunted Nirbhaya, published by Aventine Press, California, US, hit the stands in Jharkhand last month and has sold 200 copies worldwide till date.

Co-authored by Arun J., whom Justice Prasad calls his US-based friend, the book narrates the travails of a newly-wed girl, gang-raped in a hotel room in front of her husband on their honeymoon trip. Steeped in horror, it bares the brutal face of prejudiced chauvinism when she is beaten up and dumped by the man she married because he could not reconcile himself into sharing the bed with a “spoiled wife”.

The “undaunted” woman takes a legal battle head-on and the racy narrative wends its way through courtroom wrangles that force her to relive her ignominy over and over again. Unlike Delhi’s unfortunate Nirbhaya, the protagonist of Justice Prasad’s novel is lucky to find a willing eyewitness in the author who stands by her throughout the trial and even lends a hand in her rehabilitation.

“The book was penned in 2010, much before the gang rape on a moving bus in Munirka, south Delhi, and the initial title was A Hole in the Coffin. After the December 16, 2012, incident, my friend and co-author insisted that the name be revised,” the retired judge said.

“Our objective was to educate readers about the crime and the laws against it. While rape is a crime against humanity and no law seems enough against its perpetrators, every man and woman needs to come forward to stop the atrocity and, more importantly, help rehabilitate a survivor. Medical tests and police investigations need to be more scientific. Fast-track courts must ensure that justice is never delayed,” he said.

Justice Prasad also underscored the need for indomitable courage. “A rape survivor should not feel helpless, she should brew determination to seek justice just like Nirbhaya in my book.”

The 72-year-old believes that with the increase in population and citizens becoming aware about legal rights, there is bound to be a litigation explosion. “And with the stagnating number of judges, delay in trials is inevitable. This is the most visible aspect. But, there is a less discernible aspect too: careerist judges and mercenary approach of advocates. Hence, fast-track courts cannot afford to remain so for too long.”

The Undaunted Nirbhaya is the fifth published work by Justice Prasad, the others being his twin collections of Hindi short stories — Ek Aur Jatayu and Kauwa — a judicial biography titled Dhusrit and a non-fiction on the Children’s Act 1982. He has finished writing another novel, Ye Zindagi ke Raste, and an epic on the life and times of legendary tribal leader Birsa Munda. Both books are in Hindi and on publishers’ desk.

“In the mid-Sixties, I had written a poem in Hindi, Sabhyata ke Aankhon Mein, which was published in a magazine. A short story, Aparajey, followed and was again published by a leading Hindi magazine. These twin publications and encouragement of family and friends acted as a catalyst in my new passion for storytelling,” Justice Prasad summed up.