Will you marry her?’ The Supreme Court’s poser to a man accused of raping a minor girl is disturbing to say the least as it reflects a shocking lack of gender sensitivity in the judiciary at the top. Though the court clarified that it was not forcing the accused to marry the victim, the very idea is absolutely insensitive. The court’s comment trivialises sexual violence against women. It’s worse than the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s 2020 order granting bail to a molestation accused on the condition that he would request the victim to tie him a ‘rakhi’.
It’s not for the first time that such a suggestion has come from the courts. In July last year, the Orissa High Court had given bail to a man accused of raping a minor for marrying the victim who had turned an adult by that time. There are several such examples from across India. Rape is all about sexual assault or intercourse without consent. The offence becomes all the more serious if the victim happens to be a minor as she can’t give valid consent. But often victims are coerced to marry their violators due to fear of stigma, pressure from family and society. Unfortunately, courts end up giving sanction to such marriages. One can understand such a suggestion in a case of ‘rape on false pretext of marriage’ or where the accused and victim were live-in partners as it could be a case of a relationship gone sour.
A civilised society has certain non-negotiables which can’t be tinkered with. The bottom line is that rape is the worst form of crime that violates a woman’s body, mind and soul. The perpetrator has to be awarded deterrent punishment. He can’t be incentivised by giving legal sanction to his gruesome act by allowing such marriages. Despite all its good work, even in the 21st century the Indian judiciary remains a male bastion. There are only two women judges in the SC against a sanctioned strength of 34. As on September 1, 2020, there were only 78 women judges in 25 high courts against a sanctioned strength of 1,079. Addressing gender deficit is important to deal with this problem.