What does menopause have to do with rape? This is a good question and lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover has put it out there for all of us to ponder in light of the regressive judgment passed by the divisional Bench of the Delhi High Court.
As shock and horror run amok in my brain, my eyes raced down the page of my newspaper and I soon discovered that Achey Lal, a 49-year-old man, was the perpetrator who allegedly raped and murdered Uma (name changed), a 65-year-old domestic worker from Majnu Ka Tila. As I read, a part of my brain tried to grasp what was the connection to menopause.
Meanwhile the judgment, that was shared online, reveals more ‘evidence’. Achey Lal clearly had a plan in place. It was New Year’s Eve in 2010. On the night of the alleged crime, he went over to his friend Kishan’s house, armed with a bottle of Bonnie Scot. When Achey Lal got Kishan drunk, he sauntered over to Kishan’s wife, Uma’s place of work. She had been engaged to clean the apartment of a young girl for the paltry sum of `20. There Achey Lal proceeded to get Uma drunk as well and then he raped and killed her. According to the medical report, she died of asphyxiation caused by violent sexual assault. It was the young girl who discovered her maid dead, and to her horror a drunken Achey Lal lurching around her flat, declaring, “She is like my mother. She is just sleeping.”
I can only imagine the horror of the young girl who discovered her maid in this state. Then she had to call the police and deal with what was clearly an ugly, wanton crime. Lal was declared guilty and awarded 10 years of vigorous imprisonment and `5,000 fine, a paltry amount given the heinous nature of the crime.
Four years later, however, Lal is being declared a free man on grounds of technicality: There are no injury marks on his or on the body of the deceased, except for the forceful penetration that left injuries. This judgment comes after the law was amended after the Mathura rape case in 1972, where a young tribal girl was raped in custody by two policemen. After the amendment, the law stated that the victim “did not have to prove rape via injury marks on her body”. But the judges in Lal’s instance decided to accept the old hackneyed arguments. Perhaps you may call me imaginative, but if Uma was sedated then her ability to resist her rapist would have been greatly minimised. The justice system seems to have overlooked this, however.
Justice appears to be more and more retrograde around issues of gender violence. And if that was not bad enough, the judge throws in menopause, conflating issues, that in the words of Grover are “extraneous and erroneous”.
I return to my first question. What does menopause have to do with rape? Is the fertility of a woman associated with her capacity to be raped? According to this logic, we should not consider child molestation a form of rape or a punishable offence because girl children are not able to reproduce before they reach puberty and yet they are ‘raped’. The law has acknowledged that, thank God for small mercies. But why is it turning its back on older women?
What is it about being an older woman that renders her so undeserving of empathy and justice that she ‘cannot be raped’? In a society that reveres its old and worships the cliché of the adorable dadi or nani ma, who is constantly making pickles and knitting sweaters for her grandchildren, it may come as a shock to the naïve that women above 60 are raped. They are raped because they are weak, they are old, and they are no longer considered desirable.
In the light of these facts, the judgment is not only harsh but it is perhaps as brutal as the rape itself. Uma is dead. But what about countless other older women above 60 who cannot turn to the law for justice in case they are raped? Will their pain and humiliation go unheard? In a society that bases its machismo on that one word, “ma”, should we not be outraged for the rape of nani ma?
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell,All India Congress Committee