Thursday, March 30, 2023

False rape cases increasing because of societal norms on honour or as getting back

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An increasing number of cases are being filed which falsely accuse men of rape and get them arrested in the process. Only the Judiciary can give succour to such aggrieved persons.

By Shivam Sharma

The criminal justice system can, at times, go awry. Ample evidence of this was seen in a recent case of alleged rape in Kerala, resulting in the Kerala High Court expressing its displeasure. A false rape complaint by a “victim” against a health inspector resulted in him being detained for 77 days. The Court, it said, could not “shut its eyes in such situations” and granted bail to the health inspector.

The incident allegedly took place on September 3 in rural Thiruvananthapuram when the health inspector, the woman claimed, called her to his residence on the pretext of handing her a coronavirus negative certificate. She was in quarantine at a relative’s place where he would visit her for Covid-19 checks. She alleged that at his residence, her hands were tied and she was abused. Following her complaint, the inspector was arrested and even suspended from service. She filed a complaint against him under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing serious injury), 506(i) (criminal intimidation), 376, 376(2)(n) and 376C (b) (rape) of the Indian Penal Code. However, later, the woman filed an affidavit saying that it was consensual sex and no rape had occurred.

A single bench of Justice PV Kunhikrishnan, while referring to the affidavit, observed: “I am surprised, after reading this affidavit. The registration of the above case was widely covered by the media in the state. Almost all the people in Kerala know about this case. The allegation is that a Health Inspector committed rape on a lady when she approached him for getting certificate for Covid-19 negative. After reading the first information statement given by the victim, this Court also refused bail to the petitioner because the allegation in the statement was so serious. She even stated that both her hands were tied at her back and the mouth was blocked with a dothi. There after there was a forceful rape. Now this victim is deposing before this Court in a notary attested affidavit that there is no such incident and it was a consensual sexual intercourse. It is stated in the affidavit that she gave such a statement to the police because of the pressure from her relatives.”

The Court remarked that hundreds of health workers were working in the state to take care of those affected by the pandemic. In such a situation, this particular incident accorded a “black mark” to them. The Court ordered the police commissioner to conduct an investigation into the claims of the woman and submit a report within three months, arguing that such a case would have a detrimental effect on the morale of health staff. The Court disposed of the third bail application filed by the health worker. His previous two bail applications were dismissed by the Court.

In another shocking incidence of a false rape complaint, a 14-year-old tribal girl in Chhattisgarh’s Kawardha district said she had been gangraped. This was done to prevent being scolded by her parents for coming home late. The girl left her home on November 22, 2020, saying she was going to meet a friend. When she did not return till late in the night, her family members began a frantic search for her. Around 11:30 pm, they were on the way to the local police station to file a missing complaint when the girl returned home. She told the family that four unidentified men gangraped her when she was with a male friend.

Following this, the police formed seven teams to trace the unidentified suspects, but no headway was made. The police sensed that the girl and her male friend, also a minor, were giving contradictory accounts of the incident. During examination, both confessed that they were in a relationship and had gone to a PG college ground to meet. When she was reluctant to go home, the boy suggested that she cook up a gangrape story.

In another case earlier this year, the division bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice MR Shah of the apex court acquitted a man who was accused of raping his sister-in-law in September 2011 in Makhdumpur, Patna. They ruled that a rape accused cannot be convicted on the basis of the sole testimony of the victim unless it is “absolutely trustworthy, unblemished and of sterling quality”.

Recently, the Bombay High Court said that if evidence of a “deep love affair” exists, the man cannot be convicted of rape on the basis of “misinterpretation” of facts. The Court said this while dismissing an order given by a lower court in a 2013 case where a man was convicted of raping a woman by promising to marry her.

Although it is difficult to verify if a false case of rape is being made, it cannot be denied that such cases are increasing. In many cases, it is alleged that the man had sexual relations with the woman on a false promise of marriage. In such cases, the accuser makes up a story to serve a goal, be it personal or financial gain, fictitious disorder, the need for an alibi or revenge. It is crucial to her that her story is taken seriously.

False reporting of rape is being used as the most effective weapon to avenge an old rivalry, be it of caste, religion or class. Such cases have scope for strict action. Even without punishment, the social reputation of the accused is so damaged that it is difficult to restore it.

The media too is guilty of complicity as it often takes sides instead of simply providing the facts. When the media reflects on the kind of mindset of a more traditional, conservative society, it contributes to the never-ending cycle of victim-blaming and victim-shaming. Authorities too are guilty of the same error.

Often, the honour of a family matters the most and a woman choosing her own lover can seem more shameful than rape. This is especially so in interracial and inter-religious relationships. This is the reason why girls are often unable to muster the courage to tell the truth when their relationship with a lover is suddenly revealed. They find it easier to lodge false reports against him under pressure from the family.

This results in men getting falsely implicated or having an emotional breakdown. Along with their reputation taking a hit, they have to face the ordeal of court cases and careers being ruined. The women too suffer guilt and face depression.

Seeing the increasing reporting of false rape cases, the Delhi High Court directed the Delhi Women’s Commission to appoint trained counsellors in all police stations who can sympathise with the rape victim and discourage people from filing false rape cases.

Also Read: One Nation, One Election: Trapped between desirability and feasibility

The law is made for the protection of citizens, but when misused, it can become a tool for oppression. 

—The writer is an advocate in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court

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