Recently, there has been much outcry—and rightly so—about the impunity enjoyed by rapists in the country, with conviction rates in rape cases as low as 3 percent. Some, including MPs in the parliament, have gone so far as to demand extrajudicial killings of rapists. Rather than engaging in such ludicrous discussion in the parliament, we urge our lawmakers to assess and address loopholes in the existing system, which protect the perpetrators and further harass the survivors. One such provision is the archaic Section 155 (4) of the Evidence Act 1872, which allows defense lawyers to actually introduce character evidence against complainants during trial, the implication being that a woman who is not considered “virtuous” in the eyes of the court is incapable of being raped.
We are at a loss to understand what a woman’s so-called character has to do with rape. We should not have to remind the court, nor our lawmakers, that rape is actually about a woman’s lack of consent, not her romantic or sexual history—and our laws need to be updated to reflect that. By using this colonial-era provision, we are essentially putting the victims on trial—by dissecting minute and irrelevant details of their personal lives in front of a courtroom full of people, including lawyers of other cases, policemen, rapists, other victims and interested onlookers. If anybody’s character is relevant in a rape case, certainly it is that of the perpetrator, not that of the victim/survivor! If complainants have to go through such public persecution, it is hardly a surprise that so few survivors speak up and file cases, and that so few cases actually end in convictions.
We strongly demand that lawmakers do away with this offensive and discriminatory provision immediately, which harasses victims, emboldens perpetrators and institutionalises the “victim blaming” tendencies of our patriarchal society.