Patna High Court: Contempt for Rape Survivors?

A 22-year-old rape victim has been arrested and jailed for contempt of court by a Magistrate in the Araria, Bihar. The two caregivers who were with her, from NGO Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS), have also been charged with contempt and taken into custody.

rape

A 22-year-old rape survivor has been charged with contempt of court and placed in judicial custody by a Magistrate in the Araria District Court, Bihar after she alleged raised her voice in court and created disorder. Over 300 lawyers have written to the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court urging the Court to intervene in this matter and highlighting the “need for urgent and systemic changes in the treatment of survivors of sexual crimes in the Araria District Court”.

The incident occurred when the Magistrate was recording the statement of the rape survivor in court, four days after the alleged violent gang-rape. The victim, who understandably was mentally and physically exhausted after having to spend 3 hours in the court complex, “allegedly raised her voice against the Magistrate, threatened him, and snatched a copy of her statement in an apparent onset of disorientation”. The two caregivers who were with her, from NGO Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS), have also been charged with contempt and taken into custody.

The letter to the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court, noting that the “magistrate perceived her disoriented state of mind as a personal affront”, emphasized the need to “infuse the incident with some sensitivity and view it from that perspective”. The letter states that “judicial custody is excessive and harsh given…the survivor’s emotional state is extremely fragile”.

The lawyers have stressed that the court’s attention must be focused on the original complaint of the gang-rape, rather than on the alleged contempt of court. Drawing excessive attention to the contempt incident would malign the victim and convey a  “complete lack of sensitivity to a victim of violent sexual crime and to her caregivers”, the letter stated. Shockingly, the survivor’s personal details, including her father’s name and full address have also been disclosed to the local press, alleged by members of the court staff.

Furthermore, the lawyers stated that the FIR against the rape survivor and her caretakers “had been filed under the Contempt of Courts Act, which is not applicable to the magistrate’s court”. Apart from that, the three individuals have been charged with the following provisions of the Indian Penal Code: Section 353 (Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), Section 228 (Intentional insult or interruption to public servant sitting in judicial proceeding), and Section 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant). The lawyers’ letter points out that the allegation of the rape survivor assaulting or using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty is “most implausible, even if we accept the facts at face value”.
Another petition has been circulated by women activists, condemning the insensitivity of the Magistrate in dealing with the survivor and demanding the immediate release of the rape survivor and her caregivers.

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