Whenever the topic of survivors and victims of sexual assault comes about, people advocate the need for a revolution on the lines of the spring kind in Egypt. They cite the need for legislative reforms, to revamp the rules of evidence and to give the state agencies, a kick in the backside to do their jobs with dedication and impartiality. One would assume they are all fair points. But what if we told you, the reforms have been brought about, our rules of evidence has changed for the better and state agencies receive more than their fair share of kicks in the back sides? The cat’s got your tongue now I suppose. Let us therefore abandon the stereotype, forsake our ignorance and venture to face the uncomfortable truth. And the truth is, something is terribly wrong with us.
Suja’s case is perhaps the most serious attack on our conscience and should make us think. But I suppose, we wonder who Suja is? Perhaps, the name Mr. Pascal Mazurier rings a bell? Hold that Eureka moment now, while I supply context here. Not too long ago, Mr. Pascal Mazurier, an employee of the French consulate was accused of raping his minor daughter. After the French Government clarified that Mr. Mazurier did not enjoy diplomatic immunity, he was arrested. He went on to secure bail and successfully invoked our curiosity, provoked our attention and secured even our sympathies I suppose. But, for Suja, his wife, who also is the brave lady that sacrificed her marriage to fight for her children- we have given our antipathy. Suja, ladies and gentleman is one among us, an Indian, a mother and a human being fighting for justice against all odds. So today, as someone who knows her, I will do what needs to be done, which is to speak on her behalf and refute the scathing attack launched against her, not by the man she decided to fight, but by us Indians who she counted on for support.
Let us first get a few facts straight. I cannot, for reasons of judicial propriety venture into the details of the case against Mr. Pascal Mazurier. But I can educate the readers out there, what certain processes and acts in criminal law means. When a chargesheet is filed against a person accused of a crime, it means that there exists a prima facie case against him. This doesn’t mean that the charges against the accused is proved, but it does mean “something is fishy, lets try this guy and see if he is guilty or not”. At this stage, we still presume the accused to be innocent, but then, we make room for the probability that he might be found guilty. Where evidence is lacking against an accused, the police file what is colloquially referred to as “B-report”. In Suja’s case, the state has filed a chargesheet and not a B-report against Mr. Pascal Mazurier. Now it is for the court to decide whether Mr. Mazurier is guilty or not. But, our society and its members, in all their infinite wisdom have, without reading through any of the prosecution records, already concluded that Suja has filed a false complaint. Have we considered that in reaching this conclusion, considered the damage we inflict on a woman by branding her a liar?
At the root of our condemnation of Suja lies a theory that she lodged the complaint against Mr. Pascal Mazurier, for largely selfish reasons. First of all, in cases of incest involving a father assaulting his own child, the person in the most precarious position is the mother of the victim simply because both victim and perpetrator are dear to her. I am personally aware of cases where the mothers have taken the easy way out and looked the other way while the child is repeatedly assaulted by her own father. As a society, we are quick to judge such mothers as having failed their sacred maternal duties. Yet in Suja’s case, we have chosen to brand her as evil simply because she decided to answer the call of duty as a mother. Today she finds searching for an apartment difficult because she has chosen to raise her voice against crime. Landlords don’t want to have anything to do with a brave woman taking care of her three kids and going after justice, even if she is willing to pay rent. But I can only assume that within this story and background, the accused secured an apartment for rent quite comfortably?
Now lets speak about Suja. Before this unholy crime came to light, Suja was largely a homemaker. She is now faced with the task of earning for the livelihood of herself and her three children. She has to cope with the responsibilities of parenthood, all by herself. Suja, could have done what many mothers in her position would do, which is to look the other way and lead the lavish life of a diplomat’s wife. Yet she chose the more difficult path, simply because it was the right thing to do. Many of us have opined that she lodged a false complaint for selfish reasons? I ask one and all, what benefits has she earned by walking the road to justice, except our condemnation and antipathy? Clearly there is no limit to how unfair we can be to her and people in her position. For the lack of a better phrase, let me say, Shame on us!
Lets talk some more about Suja. From the very first time I met her, which was shortly after the case came to light, Suja displayed tremendous strength and courage. Albeit the glooming financial uncertainties and challenges of single parenthood, this strength hasn’t changed even a bit. In the days since then, I have come to know a lady of profound integrity and courage, which remains steadfast despite many trials and tribulations we send her way. Having seen her rise to the occasion and attend to three beautiful children in her capacity as a single parent, I am witness to a living example of the strength, devotion and love that the institution of motherhood is famous for. And for our part, we have chosen to condemn her, not because we know her, but because we don’t. For the lack of a better phrase, let me again say, Shame on us!
Our conduct towards Suja and her kids reflects a worrying absence of values in our society. How dare we point fingers at our parliament and police for not aiding survivor rights, when our own attitude towards a sexual assault survivor and her mother is so bereft of empathy, knowledge and logic? If we cannot be supportive of Suja and her children, let us at least have the decency to not have an opinion, to simply remain neutral and let the law take its course. We choose, however to judge her negatively. But in doing so without a thorough understanding of facts, we have done disservice to our collective conscience and god given intelligence. In India, every rapist, eve teaser and molestor has an accomplice and that accomplice is our society and its attitude towards survivors and survivor rights. We often come to ask, “How did things get so bad for our women and children in India?” To this, I quote a line from the movie “V for Vendetta”,
“If you are looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror”.
By Ashok G.V.
Image Source: Pascal Mazurier