January 20, 1999
While some of us are still in the process of wishing each other a happy new year, Anjana Mishra has been gang raped in Cuttack. Her only crime was that she decided to file a complaint against Inderjeet Roy, who was then the advocate general of Orissa, appointed by Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik. Her case not only reveals the utter failure of the legal system to prevent crime against women but also in fact illustrates that law enforcers have become law-breakers. Thus far it has been believed that women are at risk of being sexually abused at the hands of the police when they go to complain.
Remember Mathura? The woman who went to the police station to complain about her missing husband and was raped in the police station. The Supreme Court acquitted the police constable on the ground that there were no visible signs of injury, indicating that she must have consented to intercourse.
The case sparked off a whole new movement for reform in the rape law. This gave birth to a new offence of rape by a policeofficer within the premises of a police station on a woman in his custody. The law now says that whenever it is proved that in such a situation sexual intercourse has taken place and the woman says she did not consent, the court shall presume that she did not consent. Anjana Mishra’s case may impel us to write a similar law for rape by lawyers against their clients!
We in the women’s movement thought we had made tremendous progress since the days of Mathura. We had a whole new package of laws dealing with crime against women. The rape law was amended in 1983. Cruelty against women was made a crime in 1984. In 1986, the offence of dowry death was introduced. We were all set to face the 1990s armed with these new laws.
What has been the reality of women’s lives in these decades since the new laws were passed? While Mathura was raped by the police, Anjana in a similar situation faced attempted rape by no less than the advocate general of the state. What, if anything, has changed? The truth is that despite arange of new laws, the status of women has declined and the legal machinery must take a fair share of the blame.
Crime statistics collected in Mumbai by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences from one police station reveal that over a period of eight years not a single person has been convicted for any offence against women, though several cases were registered.
An even more startling fact that has come to light from a group of FIRs due to be published by Akshara is that of a total of about 1397 FIRs registered in Mumbai in relation to crime against women, about 40 per cent of the women who made the complaint are dead. In another study conducted in Bangalore by Vimochana, it has been found that about eight women a day have been dying and the cause of death is being recorded as "stove burst in a kitchen accident". In a case exposed by Anweshi in Kerala, it has been alleged that there has been a systematic flesh trade in which a former minister is involved and the organisation is still struggling to get anFIR registered against him.
Surely the right to life for women in this country is not guaranteed, much less the right to live with dignity. What, if anything, has changed since Mathura? The alleged rapists and molesters have become upwardly mobile, from being a police constable to the advocate general and former ministers.
Anjana had filed a complaint against her husband and Advocate General Inderjeet Roy was representing the State in that prosecution in the High Court. On the pretext of discussing the case, he called her over to her residence and then attempted to rape her. She lodged a complaint against him with the police. Her journey to justice since then has been long and unproductive.
The advocate general continued in his position and refused to resign thanks to the political patronage extended to him by the chief minister. His continuance in office could have seriously prejudiced the investigation and the case. He got anticipatory bail and then bail and has never been taken into custody for asingle day. He continued in office as advocate general for about eight months after the chargesheet was filed and resigned only recently under public pressure.
Inderjeet Roy has recently approached the High Court and obtained a stay of the trial on the ground that he wants witnesses recalled and wants to personally cross-examine them. While the case was at that stage, Anjana Mishra was gang raped by a group of three men who specifically told her that she was being punished for having taken her complaint to court. They repeatedly referred to their connections with the chief minister and threatened to liquidate her if she did not withdraw her case.
Anjana Mishra’s case proves that the ultimate defense of a rapist against the victim of the crime may be gang rape. The law has failed her, the accused has been able to defeat and delay the process of law. Had the chief minister removed the advocate general from office as soon as the complaint was lodged against him, a clear signal would have gone out that he wasnot above the law.
His continuance in office despite being accused of a serious crimes exposes his connection with the chief minister who alone had the power to remove him from office but did not, despite repeated requests from the Bar. His ability to get bail in all courts also jeopardised a fair trial. Almost a year after he resigned, the person who was appointed advocate general in his place was his own advocate, who had represented him in the bail proceedings, ensuring his access to the levers of power.
From attempted rape to rape, Anjana’s journey to justice has been a hazardous one. To date the accused have not been arrested, although she is in a position to identify them. The one person arrested is rumoured to be a scapegoat and Anjana herself has not been asked to identify him. There appears to be yet another cover up. She has now approached the High Court to transfer the investigation to the CBI. Considering the involvement of the Chief Minister, the state government should have itself ordered aCBI investigation, instead of driving her to court yet again.
Anjana Mishra’s battle for justice, which started with a dispute with her husband over the custody of her children, has ended in attempted rape and gang rape. It is now more than a year since she has seen her children. Surely, if the perpetrators of this crime are allowed to get away, no woman will ever dream of approaching a court for relief. Already, there is growing despair among women that the law does not get women anywhere and Anjana Mishra’s might just end up closing the doors of the courts for them.
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