In a new judgment, the Madhya Pradesh High Court decreed that an accused molester who forced entry into a woman’s house could be granted bail on grounds that he agrees to get a rakhi tied by her on the day of Rakshabandhan. He is to offer the woman gift money of Rs. 11,000 according to custom, and “seek her blessings” with a promise to protect her.
The accused was charged under section 354 of the IPC for trying to outrage a woman’s modesty after he attempted to enter her house in Ujjain on April 20. The latest order passed by Justice Rohit Arya of the Indore bench reportedly reads, “The applicant, along with his wife shall visit the house of the complainant with Rakhi thread on August 3, 2020, at 11 AM with a box of sweets and request the complainant to tie the Rakhi band to him with the promise to protect her to the best of his ability for all times to come.”
Would You Appoint An Attacker As Someone’s Protector?
This bizarre order inspires one and only one reaction – Are you kidding me? To absolve a man of his crimes by appointing him as the “guardian” of someone he allegedly attacked is not a reparation. Would you tell someone to pet a wild lion that tried to attack them?
Unfortunately, this concept isn’t unheard of in India where rape survivors are often married off to their rapists. In 2o15, an Orissa woman had to tie the knot with the man who raped her, citing that she had “no other choice.” Recently in 2020, the Kerala priest who was charged with rape and impregnation of a minor girl moved the courts to marry the survivor instead of facing 20-year imprisonment.
To a woman who possibly suffered emotional trauma after the ordeal of an alleged attack, wouldn’t such solutions seem like a trivialisation of her identity and pain? How insulting would it be for a woman to know that her anguish from the assault has been auctioned off at Rs. 11,000 in the name of Rakshabandhan?
Are Rakshabandhan’s Patriarchal Meanings Eroding?
Rakshabandhan originally has its roots in patriarchal traditions, for insinuating that a sister (read: women) needs the protection of her brother (read: men) at all times. But for many people today, these literal meanings are slowly but surely weathering in the face of feminist and anti-caste conversations.
For several families, Rakshabandhan now remains only as a day for family gatherings. They play around with their own renditions of it. My mother, along with my father, receives a rakhi from her sister-in-law every year. Thankfully, Rakshabandhan’s hyper-masculinisation has toned down significantly over the years.
In this scenario headed towards positive change, what message does this order give out to other rapists and sexual offenders roaming in search of prey? Henceforth, does this mean they have the license to outrage a woman’s body as long as they take an oath to protect her later? And protect her from whom? From other men like themselves, right?
Is a man’s honour tied to a woman’s modesty?
This MP High Court order also reinforces the flawed idea of a man’s honour is tied to a woman’s modesty, which makes her body his “responsibility” and “territory.” Does making a woman someone’s sister guarantee her immunity from him? How will a simple thread on the wrist act as a deterrent to sexual crimes? Can Rakshabandhan be reduced to immunity from being preyed on?
Besides, does a woman only deserve respect and dignified existence, as a sister? Must a man have to see a woman as a mother or a sister to respect her? Doesn’t her being a human not command that she is treated with dignity? That her consent and agency matter?
Every woman and man needs to ask these questions to themselves and try and understand how dangerous such practices could be for safety of women and the well-being of survivors of sexual harassment.
Image Credit: patrika.com
Views expressed are the author’s own.