ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Judging the Survivor

Is a woman’s testimony about experiencing sexual violence treated credibly in a court of law? Do social, casteist, and patriarchal notions overshadow the appraisal of her version of events and the evidence?

Many years ago, I attended a summer school on human rights at the University of Humanistics and Kosmopolis in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Two of my course-mates were lawyers from Iran, both women. I was appalled when they told me that for a woman to prove rape in Iran, she needed four male witnesses. The criminal justice system in India was far better, I thought then, since the Supreme Court had repeatedly held that to ask a rape victim for corroboration would amount to adding insult to injury. However, over time, I have realised that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an adult woman to prove rape in India.

If an adult woman has alleged rape, at the outset, investigating agencies, lawyers, and courts immediately tend to look for material which would indicate that she was having a relationship with the accused, to check whether the medical examination reveals that she was raped and/or shows injuries on her body, and whether there is material to show that she resisted her assailant, physically and/or verbally. This, in spite of the fact that it is well settled that conviction can rest on the sole testimony of the survivor if it inspires confidence,1 that to ask a rape victim for corroboration is to add insult to injury,2 and that the absence of medical evidence cannot be the grounds for acquittal.3

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Updated On : 7th Apr, 2019

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