A Case for ‘Pink’: Where Does a Woman Stand in a Real Courtroom?
By Urmi Bhattacheryya
Even as I sit down to write the story of Pink and ‘women on trial’, the news of Scarlett Keeling — the British teen whose bruised and half-naked body was found in the waters of Anjuna Beach, Goa — filters in. The two men, charged with culpable homicide and grievous sexual assault of the teen in 2008, have been cleared of all charges.
This isn’t a commentary on whether the men are innocent or not. But Scarlett’s mother could’ve been told this 8 years ago. Instead, she waits 8 long years to find out that no one raped her daughter… no one killed her.
- Rebecca John, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court
That, in a nutshell, is what we deal with, when we deal with rape in India.
When Pink released last week, it quickly became clear that it was much more than just a revolutionary, wondrous commentary on the indefatigable spirit of women. It was a piercing indictment of the way sexual assault survivors are treated in courtrooms across the country. In pamphlet-like oratory, Amitabh Bachchan proffers to the audience one damning stereotype after the other — only to crush them with mortar-like precision.
But how loud does that oratory ring in real time?
How True to Life is the Judge in Pink?
The questions directed by the prosecution to the three girls in Pink are quite reflective of reality. These questions can be embarrassing, unpleasant and traumatising — which is why an in-camera trial is always provided for.
-Priya Hingorani, Advocate, Supreme Court and Former Vice-President, Supreme Court Bar Association
However, John argues that the provision of an in-camera trial is vastly different across the geographies of India.
“It’ll always be relatively better in metros like Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay — at least some systems are in place there, and an effort at sensitisation is made. I have serious doubt that a separation between the rape survivor and the rape accused is made in smaller towns, however. In a sessions court in UP, for instance, I found that the judge had no idea that a new amendment had been imposed in the conducting of a rape trial.”
If Bachchan and the Pink women succeeding in spearing courtroom bigotries to the wall, they were helped ably by their presiding judge (Dhritiman Chatterjee) who comes across almost as an ally. Chatterjee plays the voice of reason — one that negotiates the horrific minefields of Piyush Mishra’s ML Sharma-esque speech and votes in favour of the women.
Such a voice of reason — at least in metros — does not appear too far removed from reality, according to High Court advocate Debdatta Ray Chaudhary.
“The judge appears to sift through the evidence quite thoroughly. He words his statements carefully and with sensitivity. Also, when the character of Falak falsely admits to soliciting, he allows her to step down right after her statement without subjecting her to further probing.”
Hingorani concurs as she speaks of Minal (Taapsee Pannu’s) trial in the courtroom. “When her lawyer starts asking her incisive questions about her virginity and character, he swiftly intervenes to let her know she has the option of answering these questions in-camera. She just happens to refuse.”
Such judicial sensitivity is ideal — particularly in cases of rape where cross-examination can — and most often, does — get brutal.
Cross-examination is essential to a fair trial. But it is the role of the judge to ensure it doesn’t get ugly. He/she needs to be able to control the cross-examination; that is a difficult task, and the judges must rise to it.
“Judicial officers undergo sensitivity training, which is very important,” adds Hingorani — an epitome of which is clearly seen in the form of Dhritiman Chatterjee in the movie.
When Justice for Rape Appears Utopian
However, as John reiterates, situations differ vastly across landscapes. This can be seen in terms of the way judges speak to rape survivors or word their statements. (In 2008, for instance, a trial court judge in Rajasthan had allowed the defence lawyer to ask the rape survivor to describe the posture she was in when she was raped.)
“You must have an understanding of what rape does to a woman. In the last few months, there has been an expanded understanding of the language of rape — but I don’t know how much of that new language is understood by courts beyond Delhi and Bombay — sometimes, not even there,” says John.
Lacuna in delivery of judgements can be the last straw for an already embattled rape survivor. While in Pink, the case seems to reach a conclusion in almost record time, most rape cases drag on for months — often many, many years.
As a rape survivor, after waiting that long, the very idea of justice seems utopian. The idea of injustice, in fact, becomes institutionalised. You get used to the abuse, the trauma in court. Often, out-of-court settlements are made for these women by the men in their family and the case ends there.
Fast track courts — and more judges in fast track courts — are the way to break the snag, suggests Hingorani.
“In the Nirbhaya case, for instance, the case ended in 14 months — and that’s how it should be,” she asserts.
Pink, we can all agree, is beautiful, brave and utopian in terms of its swashbuckling swoop-and-serve of justice. Can a case be made for the same in the world outside?