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In Tragic and Tough Times – Thoughts in the Wake of A Rape Charge and a Suicide: Sucheta De and Shivani Nag

December 26, 2013

Guest Post by SUCHETA DE and SHIVANI NAG

In Tragic and Tough Times, Let Us be True to Our Democratic and Gender-Just Principles.

We are confronted by a painful episode involving a rape charge and a suicide, that poses many tough and tangled questions to us – as the JNU community and also as individuals and activists committed to secularism, democracy and gender justice. Let us, for a moment, reiterate what one of the late Khurshid Anwar’s friends has said in his recent post on Kafila: the suicide does not prove him guilty of the charge of rape, and it does not prove his innocence either.

The suicide is a horrible, tragic occurrence – and it is a tragedy we should not compound with irresponsible utterances. A charge of rape does not necessarily turn the accused into a convicted rapist. True. And equally truly, it does not turn the woman making the charge, overnight, into a slut, a murderer, or a communal/political conspirator.

Those who, on social media and media, pronounced Khurshid Anwar guilty even before a due process of investigation could be initiated, were highly, condemnably irresponsible. However, to brand the complainant as a conspirator is equally unacceptable.

It must also be noted that even though in our opinion, Madhu Kishwar is not a women’s rights activist (she is not only vocal against women’s rights on most occasions, she is also politically opportunist in her treatment of cases), the complainant cannot be dismissed on the sole grounds of having approached Kishwar, whom whether we like it or not, media has often portrayed as a women’s rights activist. The complainant cannot be branded as part of any conspiracy hatched by Kishwar, merely because she approached Kishwar’s office Manushi, which is portrayed in the media as an organisation that works for women.

There is a group of persons that has, shamefully, left no stone unturned to brand the complainant – a young woman from Manipur – as a ‘blackmailer,’ and now a ‘murderer’. Open character assassination has taken place. There are several facebook and blog posts that have questioned the credibility of the complainant for “having drunk heavily with the accused”, or for “having filed a delayed complaint”.

The fact is that the complaint made by the young woman is of a very serious nature. Women’s rights activists, disturbed by the social media campaign, tried to respond very responsibly. Kavita Krishnan of AIPWA, approached by the complainant’s friends, tried to contact the complainant through Manipuri activists, trying to make it possible for the complainant to come forward. Till the complainant did so, she did not speak to anyone from the media about the complaint. Kalyani Menon Sen, a women’s rights activist who was on the board of ISD, the NGO to which Khurshid Anwar belonged, got to know of the ugly social media campaign, and contacted Kavita Krishnan. Kalyani Menon Sen initiated an enquiry, and several members of the ISD Board wrote to the complainant urging her to come forward. In addition to the open character assassination of the complainant, a malicious vilification campaign is also being run in the social media against these activists and concerned individuals who felt that a charge as serious as rape, must be seriously investigated irrespective of the credentials of the accused. Women’s rights activists – not only Kavita Krishnan and Kalyani Menon Sen but even others who have uttered a word against the character assassination of the complainant have been subjected to vile, sexist abuse and branded as ‘killers’. Dalit writer and activist Anita Bharti was called ‘dalal’ and asked ‘how much did you sell yourself for?’ Well known writer Uday Prakash and DU lecturer Ashutosh Kumar have also been subjected to vicious abuse.

What has been most distressing is the message that these cyber-bullies (some with apparent ‘progressive’ credentials) have tried to convey- to the complainant and women activists as well as to lakhs of women who battle harassment and rape everyday!

  • There are facebook posts in which certain individuals with shocking brazenness have taken credit for having made the complainant’s name public and dared the acquaintances of the complainant to take action against him. One may chose to side either with the accused or the complainant, but that does not give any individual the right to openly threaten others. What is the message that is sought to being conveyed? Is the message meant to warn women that if at any time, they chose to report harassment or rape, they must be willing to risk humiliation and further attacks and harassment?
  • There are others who have cited the delay in lodging the complaint as a proof of the falseness of the complainant’s charges. Whether or not the charges are true are not for us to decide, but the logic that delay in lodging complaint is indicative of them being false is highly problematic. In several cases (including the most recent one where a retired judge has been accused and found guilty of harassment) it has been observed that it is not easy for the victims to file complaints. There are several structural and psychological obstacles that hinder the victim from seeking justice. There is always the social stigma, isolation, and character assassination that deters every complainant of sexual violence from filing complaints. In addition, we are all aware of the hostility and prejudice that Delhi police and Delhi society bears towards women and rape complainants from the North East – a factor of which the complainant, like every woman from the North East, would be acutely aware. In our recent struggles, it is this very atmosphere of antagonism that a victim faces that we have sought to fight. Therefore, to cite these arguments does great disservice to our collective struggles of last many months.
  • The complaint made by the woman amounts to very serious charges, of rape, and also of drugging and destruction of evidence. Now that the FIR has been filed and the complainant has made a full statement before a magistrate, the investigation should proceed, and persons she has accused of destroying the evidence of rape and drugging her should also be booked under the relevant charges. And if the complainant has been booked under ‘abetment to suicide’ charges, as reported by the media, this is likely to intimidate her further and hinder her in proceeding with her own complaint. Therefore, such charges must most certainly be withdrawn against the complainant.
  •  It is extremely unfortunate that even some so called ‘progressive individuals’  have used this painful incident to launch an offensive diatribe against women activists who felt that an investigation should take place. Terming this whole incident ‘conspiracy’, some of them have gone as far as cautioning people to beware of feminists and women’s activists!  So what is the underlying message? Are the women activists to selectively entertain complaints based on their judgement of the political affiliations of the complainant and the accused? Why are Kalyani Menon Sen and other members of the ISD board condemnable for writing to the complainant and seeking to contact her and get her to file a complaint?  Is not the instinct to immediately defend those whom one considers as one’s political or ideological allies, also reflective of a largely patriarchal mindset of attempting to safeguard the ‘honour’ or ‘respect’ of one’s own group. Would it not have been better to support activists in their effort to allow the due course of justice to take place?

Whether or not the charges are true, unfortunately, there has been an attempt to delegitimize the secular, progressive, democratic and a gender just space. The attempts to rupture such a space by positing one facet of it against another, by some self claimed ‘left and secular’ individuals, using extremely sexist, abusive and violent language, can only strengthen the right wing patriarchal forces whom we all desire to collectively fight against and defeat. In the context of this specific case, for the purpose of justice and a dignified closure of the case and even for carrying forward the secular legacy of Khurshid Anwar, it is important that one distances oneself from those who find in this unfortunate situation an opportune moment to discredit both- the secular and women’s movement.

 Sucheta De and Shivani Nag are both students and All India Students Association (AISA) activists in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi

See Also (Earlier on Kafila)

An Appeal for restraint to all by the family and friends of Khurshid Anwar

An Appeal to the media regarding the ongoing vilification of Khursheed Anwar and his organization: Institute for Secular Democracy

खुर्शीद अनवर की आत्महत्या और कुछ सवाल

On the death of Khurshid Anwar: Kalyani Menon Sen and Kavita Krishnan

8 Comments
  1. ISH MISHRA permalink
    December 26, 2013 11:05 PM

    KHURSHID’S OWN TESTIMONY GIVEN TO HID FRIENDS MUST HAVE BEEN INCLUDED. I HAVE ALWAYS MAINTAINED THE IT IS A BIGGER GAME IN WHICH THE “VICTIM” AND ACCUSED BOTH HAVE BEEN TRAPPED. THERE ARE FEW QUESTIONS: IT IS A STARNGWE RPE CASE THAT THE “RAPIST” TELLS THE VICTIM TO GO TO POLICE, GET MEDICAL EXAMINATIOM. IN MOST CASES THE “RAPIST” REMOVES THE EVIDENCES BUT IN THIS CASE THE “VICTIM” DESTROYS THE EVIDENCES(CLOTHES ETC),. a MAN CAN RAPE A DRUNK WOMAN IN HIS HOUSE ONLY IF EITHER HE CIS A BEAST OR MENTALLY SICK, AND I CAN TELL YOU IN BEST OF MY UNDERSTANDING HE WAS NEITHER. I FEEL ITS BIGGER CONSPIRACY IN WHICH THE
    WOMAN WAS MADE A PAWN.

  2. December 27, 2013 12:35 AM

    Time and again, we are reminded that we live in a culture of rape where-under all women are potential targets on the one hand, and men invariably end up as potential or real rapists,on the other. How scary it is when most people casually ‘talk rape’, and how damaging it could be for conscientious men as well!
    The law must certainly take its course, despite sentiments of comradeship with Late Kurshid Anwar and the extremely saddening episode of suicide itself.
    Let there be more voices raising against the arbitrariness with which a complaint in rape case is considered not worthy of being taken seriously just because the accused person had fought many progressive common causes .

  3. Arka permalink
    December 27, 2013 8:40 AM

    Honest question-why did Kalyani Menon-Sen and others have to resign from the ISD board?

  4. Xavier permalink
    December 27, 2013 10:54 AM

    First of all let me remind that ‘we live in a culture of rape’ is malicious, unacceptable and a mischeivous statement. If that were so, there would have been no women in the country who would have escaped this, police or no police, army or no army.

    It is also shocking to see that feminism can take such savage and evil shape. Murder is definitely more savage and cruel than any rape.

    If any person be it man or women has been instrumental in this murder, that person should be severely punished. If there were any arbitrariness in giving consideration to the complaint of rape, as alluded by the authors, there definitely would not be a ‘law’ in India which strips away all rights of a man by the mere accusation of rape. As we have always said, this anti rape law is going the 498 A way, abuse, abuse,abuse….

    To think that a man like Khurshid would rape a woman who had asked for rum but was given Vodka is sickening. We can understand the minds of the authors as they are hardcore feminist. Let them understand that, they are trying to defend the undefensible.

  5. Laishram Malem Mangal permalink
    December 27, 2013 11:57 AM

    Whether a person is innocent or guilty cannot be determined by any media. First and foremost, it is the primary province of the law and judicial process. The death of a person against whom the allegations are made is very unfortunate and it adds complexity to the case. At the same time, throwing blank remarks to the complainant by a powerful section of the society including influential friends of the deceased is also highly uncalled for. Certain issues which requires attention are noted as follows. The responses of the mainstream society to cases of rape and other sexual violence against women from the northeast region have not been progressive till this day. Many have died while an equal score are continuously living with their traumatic and horrific experiences of gruesome and brutal assaults without any redress. From Reingamphi Awungshi to Richard Loitam, there exist an odd number of such cases which informs the consciousness of every north-easterner that they remain the soft target and vulnerable sections of sexual assaults and harassment. Furthermore, what compels an observer to diagnose the racial element in the assessment of such incidents and accompanying mainstream public reaction is the indifferent or rather skeptical position adopted by the media and social activists. In 2004 when Manorama was brutally raped and killed by the Indian Armed forces none of the mainstream media ever condemned the incident as “shacking the conscience of the nation” whereas the death of the 2012 December 16 rape victim shook the conscience of the nation. Which race or which region qualifies the benchmark to shake the conscience of the nation? What does it mean when the mainstream media says “nation”? From moral policing by prescribing food codes and dress codes to questioning the character of north-easterner whether boy or girl, the racially different people of the region have never been equally and non-discriminatorily received at par with other citizens in various parts of the country.The mass exodus of north-eastern people that took place in Aug.-September last year is a clear reminder. Our own being is reasoned as the cause of the assaults and violence we experience.

  6. Aaa Ddddd permalink
    December 27, 2013 2:20 PM

    Another attempt at a pre emptive strike of defence? this time ‘on behalf of’ those who drove the media campaign against the “accused”?. There was so much time to go to the police and generally resort to ‘due process’. But no, the TV channels and Facebook were quicker to administer their brand of justice. Also, as the police worry that the accused might get acquitted and therefore used to ensure that he / she never got justice through a vicious media campaign, (sometimes even more direct methods) these days ‘activists’ worry that the accused might get acquitted if the ‘due process’ is indeed followed. So they ensure that the accused should be sufficiently ‘finished’ by the media before the ‘due process of law’ takes over rendering the ‘due process’ useless. Of course in this case the same media is now being used to put up pre emptive defences as the media and facebook campaigns obviously yielded results which were slightly more than expected. Good Luck to the authors of the post and their sponsors and welcome to the new fascist world driven by activists and TV. Just don’t assume that readers of Kafila cant see through this double game that this post and other such posts are about.

  7. Bhavna permalink
    December 27, 2013 5:09 PM

    What a joke indeed ! Why this double standard ? Not a word of sympathy when accused was declared RAPIST. This accusation lead him to suicide. Was it fair? And as far as this hue and cry about victim’s name being disclosed. Let me remind all that not only her name but her IDENTITY was disclosed long ago when she had featured herself in that so called video. And then handed over that video to her rustic friends to circulate wherever they. So, first of all Ms. Kiswar and those rustic boys should be blamed for this VIDEO-GAMING fiasco and disclosure of identity.

  8. Shivani permalink
    December 28, 2013 2:31 PM

    A write up that nearly begins with – “A charge of rape does not necessarily turn the accused into a convicted rapist” and goes on to condemn the highly irresponsible and condemnable way in which the accused was declared guilty even before a trial, is being called one sided!!? What can I say if people now under assumed names and anonymity continue to spit venom against activists and those keen on a free and fair investigation. Madhu Kishwar sure should answer why while video recording she wasn’t careful about the proprietaries of concealing identities and she should sure be made accountable as to how the video got leaked, but she cannot be cited to colour all demands for unbiased investigation in the same brush. For those of us who have fought shoulder to shoulder in women’s struggle, have a responsibility to ensure that the right wing and patriarchal notions we have fought hard against are not reinstated as ‘common senses’… We are all for a fair investigation, but while that continues, we will not let a hard fought battle and discourse for gender justice be derailed … It will be extremely unfortunate if any woman who has witnessed this ugly debate, feels that her confidence in taking up a battle against harassment has shaken… if she feels unsure of women activists coming to her aid simply because whom she is up against is someone powerful or someone with progressive credentials … if she feels that she will only make herself vulnerable to further abuse and harassment. This is not to say, that one will assume the accused to be guilty before trial… but to suspect every call for a trial and a call for restraint as conspiracy, is a great disservice to what a whole lot of us have collectively fought for.

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