Shiney Ahuja has been in the news lately. For all the wrong reasons, though. Accused of rape by his maid, he’s in custody and being investigated. I don’t presume to know the facts of the case so I won’t talk about his innocence or guilt. He might have done it (people better than him have) or he might not have (his wife seems to think so). What worries me more is the draconian law under which he’ll be tried. As far as I can figure it out, the maid’s testimony can be ruled sufficient to hold him guilty of the charge. Even if no other corroborating evidence is available, the judge would be within his rights to sentence the man to jail for life (14 yrs in India). Now I may anger many feminists and “social workers”, but I find such a law extremely lopsided and completely wrong. It is a touchy topic for most and arouses shrill noises from most quarters. But imagine! All a woman has to do is to accuse you of raping her and it is on your head to prove yourself innocent. She can just yell, “Rape!” and then sit back and enjoy the show. In Shiney’s case, even if he’s proven innocent (and I really don’t care much either way), he’ll carry the stigma for life. Whatever happened to the idea of ‘letting a hundred guilty men go free rather than wrongly punishing one innocent man’?
I know rape’s a ghastly offence for most (all?) women and it’s very difficult for a female to come out and talk about such a traumatic incident, even worse when she goes to the police and court with it. Don’t know where I heard it….”you’re raped once by your rapist, you’re violated a hundred times in court”. It’s demeaning, inhuman and downright obscene the way the whole incident is played out in our courts most of the time. Thankfully the SC declared some time back that the woman’s personal character was not of significance and could not be brought into play in a rape case. There had been instances where rapists were freed on the defence argument that the female was of “loose” character. I also know how low the chances are to get a conviction in rape cases, even in the West. We are a male-dominated society and things are very, very difficult for females. Dowry violence, domestic violence, eve-teasing, frotteurs…….add rape to the mix and it’s a wonder girls walk out of the house at times. My sisters have told me how men try to fondle them in crowded buses, pass lewd comments and so on. So I can imagine how painful and traumatizing rape can be.
But even given all the difficulties in proving rape (traumatized girl with a sometimes hazy recollection, long gap between event and reporting reducing the benefit of medical examination, rarely any witness, police taking an often lewd interest in the case, lawyers out to break the victim down emotionally and so on), this law that bases conviction solely on the testimony of the female is surely not the answer. Stricter policing, better investigation techniques, greater psychological support to the victim, kinder treatment by the police and the courts would go farther in both emboldening rape victims to come forward and in procuring more convictions. If I’m not wrong, ex-girl friends have sued for rape, so have mistresses when they saw no chance of getting the guy to divorce his present wife. Such a law is as open to misuse as the previous laws were, just by the other sex. In Shiney’s case, tests show the ‘victim’ had sex, DNA might prove it was Shiney, but is that enough to prove rape beyond “reasonable doubt”? She might have slept with him and now might be reacting as a jilted lover, who knows? I know feminists might cry that if Shiney is absolved, no one will ever come out and accuse a powerful person of rape, but what I feel is more important here is to ensure that an innocent person does not get sent to prison for 7-14 years for a crime he did not commit. After all, that is what the justice system is supposed to be about, isn’t it?