Marriage With One’s Rapist: “Life Sentence” for the Rape Victim!

When the courts propose the marriage of the victim with her rapist, what does it signify? Far from recognising that rape is a brutal assault of patriarchal power against women’s right to their own body and sexuality, the judiciary is all too ready to deliver the woman into her rapist’s power for life. In other words, the rapist’s crime was not that he brutally assaulted his victim’s body and dignity; but merely that he did so to a woman who did not legally “belong” to him!

During the trial of a particularly gruesome rape case at a Sessions Court in Delhi , the rapist, who had gouged out the victim’s eye, proposed that he be allowed to marry his victim, “to wash off her stigma and re-establish her in society”. Shockingly, rather than issuing a stern reprimand for such a humiliating and offensive proposal, Additional Sessions Judge J M Malik took up the offer and delayed the judgement, giving the victim “time” to consider the proposal! When the victim refused, the Judge then awarded the rapist a life sentence, saying that the “last-minute marriage offer” was “malafide”, since the accused had not expressed “remorse” throughout the trial. One wonders, what if the rapist had offered marriage sooner and expressed “remorse” more convincingly? Would it have made the offer bonafide, and the victim’s refusal malafide in the view of the Honourable Judge?!

It is one matter that Judge Malik’s action in entertaining the marriage offer was illegal, since rape is not a compoundable offence. What is more disturbing is that his action was no aberration; it is a symptom of our judiciary’s deep-seated and widespread patriarchal prejudices. The nurse, in her reply to her rapist’s offer to marry her, asked how she could accept as her husband, the man who has “handicapped my very sense of being, more than my physical self” and termed the marriage offer as a “second rape”, an attempt to “further humiliate, insult and denigrate my dignity”. Her spirit and clarity should shame the judiciary; it highlights the fact that our judiciary habitually views rape as a crime against patriarchal property, rather than as an assault on women’s “sense of being”. Recall that a 1988 judgement had ordered a 45-year-old rapist to pay “compensation” to the father of the 10-year old victim. Such facts are a stark reminder of the status of women within the marriage institution itself. A daughter is considered a father’s property; marriage is a transfer of this property to the husband. A woman has no right to deny her husband the full use of her body, which is his rightful property (recall that rape within marriage is yet to be recognised as a crime by our laws). Rape damages the father’s property; so the rapist must either pay “compensation”, or accept the “soiled goods” himself. It is this ideology that underwrites our judiciary’s attitude towards rape.

While awarding punishment to a rapist, it is routine for judges to lament loud and long that the victim’s life was ruined and she could no longer look forward to marriage. Does a rape victim need to hear such reinforcement of social prejudices from the Courts? Or does she need the assurance that her attacker will be punished, leaving her free to heal the scars, and enjoy her right to a full and confident life? In another case in 1992, where a tribal girl was raped by two men, the High Court reduced the sentence for the rapists on the ground that the rape did not result in any “serious stigma” to the girl, ruling that the “sexual morals of the tribe to which the girl belonged are to be taken into consideration to assess the seriousness of the crime”. In other words, less stigma implies less morals, and marks the victim as “cheap”; consequently her attacker too can be let off cheaply!

This habit of associating rape with “violation of honour” or “outraging of modesty” betrays the unsaid notion that those women who lack “honour” cannot by definition be raped. Blaming the victim’s lack of feminine “modesty” for rape is a common response. We saw it recently when the Shiv Sena organ Saamna said men could hardly be blamed for rape, when exposed to the provocation of girls wearing “low-waist jeans”. Or when principals of several Delhi colleges reacted to the rape of a student by saying the victim was to blame because she was out on the road at night; they advised that the rape should teach young girls to stay at home and “not forget their limits”! They forget that rape is one of the weapons to terrorise women who daily defy patriarchal “limits” in order to assert their urge for freedom and equality. To advocate putting women back behind the bars of patriarchy rather than putting the rapists behind bars is a shameful attempt to excuse and encourage rape.

Bravo for the young nurse who defied judicial pressure to marry her rapist. Bravo for the large number of women who spontaneously turned up in the Delhi courtroom to offer solidarity to the victim, to assure her that she needed no redemptive “stamp of legitimacy” from her rapist. Bravo too for the women of Nagpur who expressed their collective outrage by lynching a rapist in the courtroom. In a situation where Courts and the police heap fresh humiliations on victims of rape, it is such women whose courage redeems and asserts women’s sense of self and dignity.