Women's rights activists and lawyers say case highlights the shortcomings of the country’s legal justice system
By Saurabh Sharma
LUCKNOW, India, July 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indian woman who was jailed for contempt of court days after she reported being gang raped has been granted bail following widespread anger over her case and demands for deeper reform by women's rights campaigners.
The woman, 22, was imprisoned for two weeks because she insisted that two charity workers be present in court when she signed a transcript of her statement, local police officer Pushkar Kumar said.
"The victim was called to record her statement in front of the judge... where she allegedly misbehaved with the officials and refused to sign the statement," Kumar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from eastern Bihar state.
The two charity workers, who had been helping the woman report her alleged rape by four men, were also put behind bars on charges including criminal conspiracy and contempt of court.
Kumar said the woman would be released from prison after the completion of several formalities. Bail was not granted to the other two women.
Her imprisonment drew anger on social media and from civil society groups, including women's rights activists and lawyers, who said the case highlighted the shortcomings of India's legal justice system.
"Arresting a rape survivor and the two activists... is a shocking failure of India's criminal justice system," said Divya Srinivasan, South Asia consultant at global women's rights group Equality Now.
She urged judges to be more sensitive about the trauma and damaging psychological impact that sexual assault has on victims.
"Otherwise, as has happened in this instance, instead of being a journey towards justice and healing, the criminal justice process will re-traumatise and further victimise the survivor," she said.
Indian rape victims have to contend with an archaic, poorly funded and insensitive criminal justice system, critics say.
Those brave enough to go to the police face numerous challenges such as hostile police officers, unsympathetic forensic examinations, a lack of counselling, shoddy investigations and weak prosecutions in the courts, they say.
The National Network of Sex Workers, a coalition of 60 groups, demanded the women's release, a quick trial of the gang rape case and non-hostile courts for sex assault victims.
"It sets a negative precedent and reduces our faith as women in the justice system and prevents us from approaching courts of law," the activists said in a letter to the chief justice of the Bihar high court on Thursday.
The fatal gang rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012 led to changes in India's anti-rape laws and emboldened victims to report their cases.
Women reported almost 34,000 rapes in 2018, or an average of about 90 rapes per day, according to government data.
But campaigners say the real number is much higher in a country where many victims feel reluctant to come forward for fear of being shamed or facing hostility from police and courts.
(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma, Additional reporting and writing by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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