Calls have been growing in India for the chief justice of the Supreme Court to go “without a moment’s delay” after his recent remarks in a rape case.
Chief Justice Sharad Bobde, who was heading a three-judge bench, asked a 23-year-old man accused of raping a girl whether he would marry her.
“If you want to marry her, we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail,” he said.
His comments shocked many, especially considering the horrific accusations the girl – who was 16 at the time of the alleged rapes in 2014-15 – had made against the man, a distant relative.
In an open letter to Bobde, more than 5,000 feminists, rights activists and concerned citizens wrote that they were “outraged” and asked him to retract his statements and apologise or quit, the BBC is reporting.
According to the open letter, the alleged rapist “is accused of stalking, tying up, gagging, repeatedly raping a minor school-going girl, and threatening to douse her in petrol and set her alight, to hurl acid at her, and to have her brother killed”.
It added that “the rape only came to light when the minor school-going victim attempted suicide”.
The girl’s family also alleged that they had agreed not to go to the police because they were promised by the accused’s mother that once the girl became an adult, they would marry the two.
In a country where victims are often blamed for rape, and sexual assault carries a lifelong stigma, her family had little choice but to agree to the arrangement.
But after the accused backtracked from his promise and married someone else, the survivor went to the police.
The accused, who is a government employee in the western state of Maharashtra, had been granted anticipatory bail by a lower court after he pleaded that he would lose his job if arrested. But the Bombay High Court called the order “atrocious” and cancelled his bail.
The man then approached the Supreme Court – which on Monday granted him protection from arrest for four weeks. This was when the infamous remarks were made by Bobde.
The open letter borrows the term “atrocious” from the Bombay High Court order to describe Bobde’s remarks.
“Your proposal of marriage as an amicable solution to settle the case of rape of a minor girl is worse than atrocious and insensitive for it deeply erodes the right of victims to seek justice.
“By suggesting that this alleged rapist marry the victim-survivor, you, the chief justice of India, sought to condemn her to a lifetime of rape at the hands of the tormentor who drove her to attempt suicide,” it says.
The top judge’s comments have been especially criticised as they are being seen as an “attempt to work out a compromise” between the two sides.
Yet such an arrangement is not unknown in traditional Indian societies.
Gatherings of village elders in rural communities steeped in patriarchy are known to offer such a compromise formula to broker peace between families, and over the years, there have been several instances of the judiciary trying to play matchmaker between the victim and the accused in a similar fashion.
This kind of arrangement is decried by young, educated metropolitan types.