As many as 376 lawyers from across the country have written to the Patna High Court chief justice and other judges seeking their intervention in the “insensitive” manner in which a gang-rape victim was sent to jail by a court in Araria district for yelling possibly after suffering a nervous breakdown.
The lawyers have urged the high court to bring about systemic changes in dealing with such cases. They said the 14-day judicial custody handed to the victim was “excessive and harsh”, and could further jeopardise her health.
On Wednesday evening, the high court took cognisance of the case and sought information from the Araria district and sessions judge. Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh of the high court will hear the matter on Thursday.
Two members of a civil society organisation — the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS) — who had helped the victim seek justice were also jailed on July 10 on charges of contempt of court and obstructing judicial proceedings.
The signatories to the lawyers’ letter include Indira Jaising, Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover and Rebecca John.
The number of signatories — 376 — is symbolic as the Indian Penal Code Section 376 and its sub-sections deal with punishment for rape and gang rape. The FIR, which the Araria victim had registered against a named accused and four unidentified persons, is filed under IPC Section 376(D).
The lawyers have written in the letter: “There is a need to infuse the incident with some sensitivity and view it from that perspective: it was the fourth day since the incident of gang rape. The survivor was completely distraught and also very disoriented. She was not eating or sleeping, and was also in physical pain. In the course of the four days, she had had to repeat her experience to sundry personnel, often only for voyeuristic purposes.”
The lawyers pointed out that the victim had been totally dependent, emotionally, on her caregivers since the incident, and they were also traumatised and exhausted.
“We respectfully submit that any perceived disrespect must be viewed from this perspective. Victims and their caregivers deserve extra care and sensitivity. Rather than understanding the fragile state of the three people, they were first remanded in police custody,” the letter said.
It underscored that no tests for Covid-19 were done on the victim despite she being gang-raped, and the FIR for contempt of court was registered a day late, that too without following proper procedures. Her identity had also been made public and published in the local vernacular media.
The lawyers said bringing charges under IPC Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) against the victim seemed most implausible under the circumstances if the facts are accepted at face value that the survivor had repeatedly demanded that her statement before a magistrate be read to her by one of the JJSS members since she could not understand it.
“We submit that the remand into judicial custody is excessive and harsh given the circumstances. The survivor’s emotional state is extremely fragile and we fear that the separation from her caregivers and incarceration will have an adverse effect on her health,” the lawyers have written.
Asserting that the turn of events have put the gang-rape case on the backburner and also led to the survivor being maligned, the lawyers requested the Patna High Court chief justice and other judges to “intervene into the matter as it displays a complete lack of sensitivity to a victim of violent sexual crime and to her caregivers”.
The JJSS on Wednesday moved a bail petition in the Araria sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court on behalf of the survivor and its two jailed members.
“We wonder when the bail plea will be heard because the court is functioning in virtual mode due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are keeping our fingers crossed,” JJSS member Kamayani Swami said.