To believe or not to believe her, polls and rape, Alwar survivor speaks

The 21 May edition of Note This — our weekly round-up of media reports and opinions on sexual assault

The credibility of a woman who set herself on fire after alleging police inaction has been called into question by her community as well as the police. Image is representative. Photo: May Wong/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The ‘believability bias’, so to speak, against women’s accounts of sexual assault or harassment was highlighted in several high-profile cases this week, with questions being raised about the truthfulness and motives of different complainants.

With general elections coming to a close, the past week has also seen greater national media attention on sexual assault charges emerging (or being resurrected) against various political leaders.

Editor’s pick

Track star Dutee Chand’s revelation that she is in a same-sex relationship has made big news. The sprinter, whose family has threatened to disown her, has said she chose to come out because she does not want to end up like Pinki Pramanik, another athlete who was accused of rape by her partner. Pramanik’s story and the media’s problematic treatment of that case has been covered by NewsTracker’s Simran Singh in ‘When gender blinded the media to (an alleged) rape’.

Across India: news since last Tuesday

In the absence of conclusive evidence — which can be notoriously difficult to collect in sexual harassment/historical cases — sexual assault complainants often end up bearing the burden of proof and defending themselves from counter-allegations.

In ‘Statements of rape, sexual abuse victims shouldn’t be taken at face value: Bar Council head’, the Print reported BCI chief Manan Kumar Sharma’s call for to support “men too” in the wake of sexual harassment allegations made against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi.

Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, meanwhile, criticised the woman for not approaching the “appropriate committee”, even though such a thing does not exist, reported the Wire in ‘Explained: Seven dead-ends if you’re a victim of sexual harassment in the Supreme Court’.

There have also been protests held against the complainant who, having run out of other options, may now file an appeal against her dismissal from the Supreme Court to the the CJI himself.

Hapur self-immolation

In Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, a woman who set herself on fire made national news after she said her suicide attempt was driven by the police’s indifference to her rape complaint. The woman said she was “sold” by her father and subsequently raped by as many as 16 men. Even as the case became the subject of political bickering, however, questions have arisen about her allegations.

Many reports have quoted the police as saying that the woman “reached hospital three days after burn injuries” and that she has “a history of troubled marriages” (although it is not clear how this belies her story). The woman’s first husband has also reportedly deposed against her, and several news reports have suggested that her claims may not be entirely truthful. The Print, meanwhile, has drawn attention to how people from the woman’s community do not believe her, since she “wears make-up, has a suspicious character and has ruined the reputation of the village”. The article also quotes the woman, who says, “I am not lying. Why will I lie to the extent of burning myself?”

MJ Akbar defamation case

In his defamation case against his #MeToo accuser Priya Ramani, former journalist and ex-Union minister MJ Akbar has taken the stand for cross-examination to either deny or claim no memory of the allegations against him. According to a detailed piece in the Wire, on his second day on the stand, Akbar “claimed to not recall most instances of sexual harassment levelled against him by at least 18 women”. The next hearing is on June 6.

In an earlier editorial, the Print had noted how ‘When MJ Akbar says “I don’t remember”, he mocks the trauma of sexual abuse survivors’.

Politics and rape

In ‘Two states, two rapes And BJP-Congress sparring in national election”, the NDTV describes how a gang-rape in Alwar, Rajasthan, and the Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, self-immolation case have become political fighting points.

Yet, according to a Bloomberg report, ‘One in five candidates” have been “accused of a heinous crime in India’s election’ — including rape. Among them is Atul Rai, the SP-BSP candidate from Ghosi in UP, who has been accused of raping a college student. Last week the Supreme Court refused to grant him interim protection from arrest, even as his political supporters rallied behind him with claims that the case was “politically motivated”.

Yesterday, a Chhattisgarh BJP leader was arrested for allegedly sexually exploiting a woman between 206 and 2018, while in Tripura an MLA was booked for allegedly raping a tribal girls. In Goa, meanwhile, the missing accuser of Congress leader Atanasio Monserrate was located, but not before the two parties entered a war of words on the matter.

A survivor’s voice

In ‘We said we were Dalit, he said what can Dalits do to us’, the Indian Express spoke to the survivor of the Alwar gang-rape who described how caste and cultural misogyny played into the sexual assault and its aftermath.

Following the political controversy around the case, the Rajasthan government has offered the survivor a job as a police constable. Following the Alwar gang-rape, the media has kept a keener eye than usual on Rajasthan, and other recent sexual assault cases from the state have received widespread news coverage.

Read more

This roundup is curated from the RSS feeds of more than 30 English news publications from across India.

See a fuller list of rape and sexual violence cases reported today, and earlier this week.

Use our case filter to read reports on specific cases: #MeToo, #KeralaPriest, #RapeOfMinors, #Muzaffarapur, #PoliticsOfRape (use the dropdown menu in column A).

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