I am deeply perturbed by the death of Suzette Jordan. I question myself, why does her death trouble me so much! by Sushmita Verma
For those who do not know her, Suzette used to love to dance. She used to stay in Kolkata. She loved the color red and liked to wear red lipstick and red sandals. Suzette was bold and used to take a stand for herself without relying on people. At the same time, Suzette did not want to always feel like a heroine. She had her weaknesses like every other human being. She died because she did not get the support a rape victim needs after the ordeal. Yes, Suzette was a rape victim, from Park Street, who was raped again, by the society, by the politicians, by the neighbours, by the colleagues. What was her fault? She willingly chose to fight the stigma of rape by disclosing her real identity. Most of the survivors of rape assault do not disclose their identity because our societies have still not reached a stage where we accept rape victims in the entirety of their being. Rape stays as the single most identifiable event post the incident and affects their lives in many ways. Some employers throw away the women from jobs, the neighbors and society blames it on the outgoing nature of the girl, the politicians make obscene remarks on the girl (Mamata Banerjee called Suzette enemy of the state) apart from suspecting foreign hand and eating Chinese as the causes for rape. Suzette made a conscious choice of staying strong knowing the ways of the society, but what she was not prepared for, was an even more insensitive and cruel judicial process .
The parading of the victim’s underwear (that she was wearing during the time of rape) as examination of evidence in the court is not just outrageous, but also inappropriate. The purpose of such an exercise can only be to humiliate and break the will of the victim. And this was not an exaggeration but only the fact about how Suzette was treated in the court by a ‘female’ judge (She shared her trauma with a close friend Harrish Iyer). To imagine, from a society where buying undergarments and menstrual pads in small towns is still a stigma and one is always welcomed with sly smiles and weird looks to the same society where the victims of rape have to go through the demeaning task of identifying their undergarments in front of a hall comprising essentially of a predominantly male population, what is the level of trauma one can be expected to go through ? No wonder, many of the rape victims that we work with are undergoing many kinds of depression in a society that is cruel to the most unimaginable extent. In such situations one would expect at least the judicial process to be fair and just but the case is opposite. Suzette confided in Harrish, “I WAS GANG RAPED. AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN IN COURT.”
The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act 2012 and Justice Verma Committee recommendations 2013 provided women and children with really progressive provisions, which would empower the women if implemented . Provisions relating to protecting the identity of victim, zero FIR, wherein one could report the incident of sexual violence to the nearest police station, provisions that the medical facilities or treatment can not be denied to such victims, statements can be recorded in private, not having to face the accused except for test identification parade, to have a screen when the victim might be feeling intimidated etc. But barely any of it has come in practice. Another fact to be noted is that the CLA ( Criminal Law Amendment ) that was adopted after the Justice Verma Committee recommendations were made available , did not come through a transparent procedure, nor was tabled for discussion in the parliament or in any open discussion. Rather some of the provisions that the government ‘liked’ came as part of CLA without a proper explanation and without any measures or regards of how those will be implemented on the ground, i.e. in Police Stations and Courts . No wonder that the process still continues to be mostly apathetic to those who most need it. For example, the Section 376(2) of the IPC expanded its provision from custodial rape, rape by authorities of an institution, rape by police officers or military personnel in uniform etc. to include rape which results in the victim being mentally or physically disabled and now attracts a punishment of imprisonment for a minimum period of 7 years to life. Now, the important point to note is that custodial rape and sexual assault of adivasi women, dalit women has been in common public knowledge. There are rows of such cases in front of us. The question is where is the rule of law here? Do these women have the privilege of even lodging a complaint charging the policemen, SPOs of aggravated sexual assault? Do they have a voice?
The women remain as distanced as ever from the law. Especially, the women from lower strata of the society are not merely disconnected from any provisions of law but also, in many cases their existence is in conflict with the legal provisions. The law, needless to say, serves the purpose of the people who have the luxury of time and money to go through the tedious judicial processes.
It is not an unknown fact now that rape is only a symptom of the deeply demented patriarchal societies we live in. In India, where the imagination of the nation constitutes a Brahminical Upper Caste Hindu Male figure as Perry Anderson so eloquently analyses in his works, the situation is worse. Hence we can conclude that the problem of rape is not just in the mindset of ‘THE’ Criminal as the society would have us believe but in our deeply entrenched patriarchal overarching values. This combined with the power that comes from being in charge of the law and order for the society becomes an extremely addictive and fatal formula to maintain the hierarchical order of the society. The people who are expected to defend the rights of the people become actually the abusers of it.
Hence it is important to see how this structure can be broken. To understand this, we have to start from where the society is and not our utopia of what a society should be. I think the first step should be to treat rape as any other crime (against women) and deprive it of the aspect of honor. Now it is easier said on paper. But how does one achieve this? By supporting the victims of rape in their struggle to pursue justice. In many cases the rape victims do not want to follow the tedious road of justice, and that should be respected too. But in any case, to start forming those support groups, those communities, those conscientious people, who, when come to know about these instances, take responsibility of at least one survivor in their community or neighborhood. The very feeling that someone is there to share their pain can be a great boost to their moral strength. Once this person is made to feel accepted and like a normal human being and not a ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ only, the process of reform starts. The internal has to heal first in order for the external to fight its cause. That healing, that belief, that first support, that first acknowledgement is a small but a very important step. Even if a few of these women come together, supported by the society, they can be a great support and encouragement to other women amongst them. Take for instance the example of four women lawyers in Jagdalpur area of Chhatishgarh district who have come together to fight against fabricated cases. Such local and grounded groups are required and can be aided by groups with more resources and knowledge from time to time. It is my dream that feminism does not remain in Vogue empower videos but comes down to the bastis of Mumbai and muhallas of Ranchi and to jungles of Chhatisgarh.