Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Calling for a reform on the justice system #ShaktiMills

Yesterday, I shared an article on my Madh Mama Facebook page about the aftermath of the Shakti Mills gang rape - a personal eyewitness account from a friend/work colleague of the victim. Reading the article of the events that happened after the rape was extremely reflective of a society that has an inefficient and insensitive way of dealing with victims of sexual assault. I can only hope as more people read this article, it will call for a reform on the police force and the justice system.

The Shakti Mills rape case in Mumbai was the second highly publicized gang rape after the infamous Delhi gang rape, in which the victim, Jyoti Singh Pandey, died from her injuries. But this victim from Mumbai survived. When I initially heard of the news, I was shocked because Mumbai is considered to be one of the safer places for women. Also, I felt a closeness to the case since I studied photojournalism and have photographed by myself - all over the world. I remember being that 22 year old girl, going into abandoned places and documenting it. 

In the aftermath, the media focused on where it happened, and they actually caught the rapists within a few weeks and jailed them. The media was very satisfied that the rapists were "slumdogs". It was quite an impressive catch for the inefficient police force - who decided to remove retail store mannequins displaying lingerie as a means of "preventing rape". However, not many people knew the victim's side of the story and the insensitive way in which she was handled. 

READ the article here: "That Hashtag was my Colleague"

Some major things struck me about the article:

"we watch a posse of policemen walk in. They've clearly been informed about the nature of the assault, but there isn't a single woman officer in the team."

Clearly, these officers have been informed that this is a gang rape case. It is insensitive for a group of aggressive men to approach a woman who has just been gang raped by a group of aggressive men. Why did nobody think of that? Are there no high ranking women officers on the police force - and why were they not called to this case first?

"Behind me and within earshot of everyone, another officer with a kind face engages in intermittent chatter with the nurses. "What happened was awful, but why did they have to go there? And all alone? Do girls think they can go just about anywhere?" "

Victim blaming at it's finest. Why did they have to go there? Why did the rapists have to go there, clearly with an intent to rape, having seen them "trespassing" and then going back and rounding up their friends. This type of victim blaming gives women the message that women are not welcome in public spaces, nor are we safe, because anything could happen. The unprofessionalism of the police officer's comment is absolutely vulgar. Save the gossiping for when you get home, sir.

"Their reporters have turned up at her building and asked questions of her unaware neighbors and the building’s guards."

This is harassment. Not only does the victim have to deal with the severe social stigma of something like this, but she has to deal with reporters with absolutely no conscience, who are blinded by their own "journalistic" ambition.

"The police make Megha wear a burqa to avoid the cameras outside, but inside the room where the suspects will be called in by turn, she is required to take it off. There are separate line-ups of seven men, and the survivor has to pick the accused by touching him on the arm. She then has to go to a corner of the room, and announce loudly what the suspect did to her. And this is what Megha does on September 4, in a room full of men that include her attackers, without any women officers present to aid her. She touches the men on the arm to identify them, and then says, Isne mera balatkaar kiya (He sexually assaulted me). She repeats this four times over."

What is this barbarism? The victim has to stand in the same room with the men who have victimized her and touch their body? She has to say it four times, because once is not enough? She has to stand in front of them, vulnerable and ashamed, with virtually no barrier of protection like a window or bars? What is this?

"she has found out that the police is handing out the document to anyone from the media, without redacting Megha’s identity and personal details."

This clearly goes against Section 228A in The Indian Penal Code which states that a survivor of sexual assault's identity is to be protected - "Whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C or section 376D is alleged or found to have been committed (hereafter in this section referred to as the victim) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine". The police are supposed to be the people enforcing these laws, yet they are willingly giving away her information? They are willingly committing a crime against the victim and have faced no consequences for doing so? Why is there no internal investigation on this? 

"When it is our turn, we go in aware that the defense lawyers will lob questions designed to embarrass and throw us, but we are not ready for the lies and mocking assertions: Your colleagues were having an affair and had gone to the mill for privacy. What sort of an editor allows a male and a female intern to go to an abandoned area? You only want to implicate innocent men for the loss of her honor. She was not assaulted. At one point, one of the lawyers badgers Neha about whether she noticed semen stains on Megha’s underclothes, hoping that because she is a woman, talk of semen will embarrass her. He stops when the judge objects, but he laughs with the other lawyers. Two of the accused also laugh."

Unbelievable. I have no words. When is enough enough?

"Their closing statements are: We put it to you that you were not assaulted. The blood on your clothes is because you were menstruating. You’re doing all this to become a famous photojournalist."

What is this logic? What is this blatant disrespect for somebody's life? Where do people draw the line? Where does the judge draw the line? Is this not re-victimization? 

Then, the rapists were found guilty and sentenced. But what about the victim? How can her life go back to normal, how can she trust ANYBODY again? Much less people in positions of authority. In the aftermath of the crime, it is victim blaming from start to finish. Reading this entire process, no wonder people do not report sexual assaults. The police force is inefficient, insensitive, and ungracious. And the courtroom - where are the code of ethics there? Where is the morality of such people? Where does the court draw the line - between questioning and emotional bullying?

The entire process needs to be reformed in a way where it supports the victim psychologically. There needs to be sensitivity. There needs to be a protection of the victim's identity so that she can have some space to heal, mentally, physically and emotionally. The entire process of the aftermath is not an environment that is supportive to the victim. I wonder how many other victims have gone through this process and crumbled under the pressure? It is inhumane

As this story comes to light, and as more women are being continually victimized - it is not only the rapists who are at fault. We are dealing with an entire justice system which is supporting the misogyny of the rapists, and encouraging victim blaming by persons of authority. At every step - the hospital, the journalists, the police, the lawyers - at every single step, this woman had to deal with heartless behavior and was victimized again and again.

So tell me, when is enough enough? Is this the kind of justice system that we want to protect our children? 


Dear readers, what are your thoughts on the article?



  1. The problem is not that India need a reform of the judicial system or law. They need the laws that exist already to be implemented. The mannequin removal was not the work of the police by the way. It was done on order of a WOMAN belonging to or the Shiv Sena or the MNS party (I don't remember which one).
    What India needs more than anything is EDUCATION and a change of mindset. All patriarchal traditions need a revamp, festivals like Karva Chauth and Rakshabandan which basically tell girls and women they are nothing without a man to vouch for them and protect them need to envolve into festivals of mutual protection and well wishes instead. Girls should no longer feel they have to serve their brothers and fathers, and they should no longer be told that they need special protection. And the Governement has to stop this nonsense of providing special trains and bus service for the safety of women, this is segregation at its best and it teaches the wrong message to everybody. The only job the Governement has is to ensure the law is observed and punishment given in every case. All that political jibber jabber, and urging them to put more special measures to protect girls and women, I don't want to see anymore, this is a waste of time and money.

    1. YES YES YES. Women need not protection, they need to be respected as human beings with rights.

  2. Agree wholeheartedly with Cynthia Haller. Laws are already there. They just need implementation. This change in mindset should start at home while bringing up children, at school by teachers and educators. Gender stereotypes should not be encouraged. Girls and boys should enjoy equal opportunities, rights, as well as duties. Patriarchal traditions and rituals should be done away with courageously.

  3. The laws will mean nothing as long as this behavior keeps been perpetuated by Indian society. It starts in the home where boys are put above the girls in every way. Behavior by the way that is largely taught by the mothers themselves.

    Most boys don't have any responsibilities inside the home. The mother and sisters do everything for them shortly of wiping their behinds; like they are some kind of gift from God.
    At gatherings, women are socializing separate from the men. They cook, serve and clean while the men eat and drink like there is no tomorrow.

    Education is key I believe. Like Cyn said this type of segregation keeps this archaic system alive and well.

    Girls need to be empowered and taught how to be confident, how to protect themselves, how to fight back and to bravely question a system that is clearly not working for them. Learn techniques of self defense. Travel in groups. Carry some sort of protection. Don't know if there is pepper spray and Johnny sticks in India but is something to think about.

    My husband said that it will take a generation or two to get rid of this patriarchal inadequate system. Made me think of one of favorite movies "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and Sydney Poitier infamous speech to his dad. Here is the link if anyone is interested in seen it :)


    Millie B

    1. Very true. It may take generations, and it definitely requires a change in mindset. I remember going to visit my husband's uncle and the women forcing the men to eat first, all segregated. Like how can they learn from each other if both sexes are segregated?

    2. @Alexandra

      Since, you are fond of reading. I have these two articles on changing dynamics of man women relationship in India and sexuality. It gives a very interesting prespective on this pheonmenon.



      Love to know what you think about it.

    3. Huge fan of the Love Commandos.....what a great organization.
      First article was very in depth and interesting. It seems that India is becoming more free - freedom of choice, etc. And that diversity is a good thing, it redefines society...
      2nd article - there needs to be a clear definition of rape. Was she abused by him with sexual and-or physical assault, or was she duped.....?

  4. It's just beyond sad. My heart goes out to Jyoti, Megha and millions of unknown victims. I am an Indian and I don't see any hope whatsoever. Where there's no respect for a woman, and only deep rooted patriarchy I don't know how the thinking of people can be changed. I know for sure that if I had a chance I won't ever bring up my baby girl in such a society.

    1. I am nervous taking my daughter back to India. I think it will take generations to change and I don't know if it will by the time she is a woman.

  5. I'm speechless !! really have no words to condemn such behaviour! This is a mockery of justice. Being an indian girl I know full well how does it feel actually when people ogle at you for wearing a simple sleeveless top and a pair of jeans. I don't know how and when these things will ever stop....as long as the judicial system remain partial to these rapists....I find no ray of hope anywhere... :-(

    Thanks for sharing this post and letting us know....

    1. This is even worse -> http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/juvenile-rapist-in-2012-new-delhi-assault-now-paints-and-cooks-at-correction-home/2014/08/31/1af8a383-1100-4305-b59b-8259784debf0_story.html

  6. Well, it sounds like a terrible ordeal for the victim... however, I am afraid rape victims face the same kind of ordeal in western courts too :(

    1. It is awful, I hate how the girl's motives are questioned and her character torn apart. Instead of the rapists, of course.


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