Justice Krishna S Dixit had passed the controversial order on June 22
Justice Krishna S Dixit had passed the controversial order on June 22

Cannot accept when judges abandon their role and express opinions that justify worst of patriarchal norms: Open Letter to Karnataka HC Judge

Foremost among the issues raised is the judge’s remark that the complainant sleeping after the alleged rape was “unbecoming” of an Indian woman”, not in accordance with “the way our women react when they are ravished.”

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

Voicing concern over Karnataka High Court's recent remarks while allowing a bail plea in a rape case, women’s rights activists, individuals, and groups have addressed an open letter condemning Justice Krishna S Dixit’s statements in the June 22 order.

In his controversial order, Justice Dixit had allowed bail for a rape accused while factoring that the complainant had fallen asleep “after the perpetration of the act” which the judge opined was “unbecoming of an Indian woman” and “not how our women react” (Rakesh B. v. State of Karnataka).

“We do not accept that guardians of law and order and the Constitution become guardians of women’s morality and behaviour, claiming us as 'our women' violating our own fundamental right to choose and express our emotions, thoughts, anxieties, fears, opinions in our own way and of our own volition. We will not accept that we are told time and again that 'we ask for it' every time we choose to protest the violation of our bodies and our persona. We do not accept victim blaming and victim shaming when we are 'punished' for 'unladylike' behaviour like socialising with men, being out late at night or drinking alcohol. And we cannot accept when judicial officers abandon their role as Judges with constitutional obligation and responsibilities but instead express opinions that justify the worst of patriarchal norms and practices", the letter states.

Foremost among concerns raised is the judge’s remark that the complainant sleeping after the alleged rape was “'unbecoming' of an Indian woman” and not in accordance with “the way our women react when they are ravished."

The signatories state their disappointment with the order in the following terms,

“The articulation of this order has deeply disturbed and disappointed those of us who have been working over the past decades to uproot the discriminatory structures of patriarchy deeply embedded into all our social and political systems including the judiciary. The fact of the matter remains that despite all these efforts women who make decisions to live independently and make choices regarding their own lives, including their intimate/ sexual lives are still viewed as women with 'loose morals and character.'“

While recognising the right of an accused to seek bail, the letter condemns the grounds upon which the bail was granted. The letter notes that the complainant’s conduct, which formed the basis for the grant of bail, was judged on “moralistic and misogynistic grounds that have nothing to do with the law."

The letter further expresses the signatories' worries regarding the bail order potentially pre-empting and prejudicing the investigation and trial processes. By reason of the Judge’s statements, the charges of rape have virtually been dismissed, indicating that non-existence of prima facie evidence, the letter states.

The letter condemns the use of “ravished” instead of the legal term “sexual assault” in the order’s description of the offence.

Further, it expresses the signatories’ displeasure over other statements made in the course of the June 22 order that cast blame on the complainant for her supposed “delay” in filing a complaint and questions her “character”.

Comments such as these, the letter states, carries forward a history that has “legitimised different forms of violence” and has granted impunity to perpetrators.

“(It) is part of a continuing historical narrative which has legitimised different forms of violence be it domestic, sexual or economic and granted social if not legal impunity to the perpetrators of this violence", the letter states.

The order, the signatories state further, is reminiscent of the 1978 Mathura case, wherein the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of an accused after questions about the “moral integrity” of the 15-year-old gangrape victim and her having been “habituated to sexual intercourse” were raised.

Reflecting upon the struggle for women’s rights and changes in criminal law, especially in the wake of the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case, the signatories lament that the order “sets the Indian judiciary and the struggle of women’s rights movements back by decades."

The letter goes on to quote the following passage from the Justice Verma Committee Report commissioned in response to the Nirbhaya case-

“Attitudinal changes to correct the aberration of gender bias have to be brought about in the institutions of governance to improve the work culture, and in civil society to improve the social norms for realizing the constitutional promise of ‘equality’ in all spheres for the womenfolk.”

Calling upon Justice Dixit and other members of the judiciary to “self- correct” actions that amount to blatant violations of women’s rights and dignity, the letter also enjoins the Court to expunge the statements made in the bail order. An order “based on law and not on prejudice” has sought by signatories to the letter.

Read the open letter:

Open letter to Justice Krishna Dixit.pdf
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