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Indian Women face a misogynistic society with an entrenched cultural bias: Madras High Court

The challenges Indian women face are formidable: they include a misogynistic society with entrenched cultural values and beliefs, bias (often sub-conscious) about the stereotypical role of women, social and political structures that are heavily male-centric. A single judge bench of Justice P Velmurugan while adjudicating the matter in Maruthupandi v. The State [CRL.A.No.258 of 2019]; observed the conditions of women in a male dominated society.

The respondent police registered the case against the appellant for the offence punishable u/s.417, 376 IPC and for the offence under Section 5(l) read with 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, [hereinafter called as POCSO Act]. After completing the investigation, since the offence is against women, especially child, laid the charge sheet before the Special Court. The learned counsel for the appellant would submit that the appellant has not committed any offence as alleged by the prosecution. At the time of commission of the alleged offence, both the appellant and victim are minors and therefore, prosecuting the appellant under POCSO Act is not legally sustainable. Since the appellant was a minor at the time of alleged commission of offence and both the appellant and victim girl loved each other and lived together for more than four years and even at the time of trial, the victim girl filed an affidavit before the trial court that they are living together and also entered into compromise and so they wanted to compromise the matter. The learned trial Judge failed to appreciate the case on hand and the materials furnished in support of the same and not even considered the affidavit filed by the victim girl. Therefore, while they were in the adolescent stage, they loved each other and had physical contact and also lived together. Due to some misunderstanding, the victim girl filed the complaint before the respondent police and thereafter, the girl realized her mistake and she is living with the appellant and she wanted to withdraw her complaint and compromise the matter, however, the trial Judge failed to appreciate the facts and wrongly convicted the appellant, therefore, the judgment of the trial court is liable to be dismissed.

The Court upon considering the aforesaid facts dismissed the appeal and stated that “The role of all courts is to make sure that the survivor can rely on their impartiality and neutrality, at every stage in a criminal proceeding, where she is the survivor and an aggrieved party. Even an indirect undermining of this responsibility cast upon the court, by permitting discursive formations on behalf of the accused, that seek to diminish his agency, or underplay his role as an active participant (or perpetrator) of the crime, could in many cases, shake the confidence of the rape survivor (or accuser of the crime) in the impartiality of the court. The current attitude regarding crimes against women typically is that “grave” offences like rape are not tolerable and offenders must be punished. This, however, only takes into consideration rape and other serious forms of gender-based physical violence. The challenges Indian women face are formidable: they include a misogynistic society with entrenched cultural values and beliefs, bias (often sub-conscious) about the stereotypical role of women, social and political structures that are heavily male-centric, most often legal enforcement structures that either cannot cope with, or are unwilling to take strict and timely measures. Therefore, reinforcement of this stereotype, in court utterances or orders, through considerations which are extraneous to the case, would impact fairness.”

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