If in future, all the rape accused and their lawyers start referring to the Bombay High Court’s verdict, who will be to blame?

In 1970s, legendary Communist leader and former Chief Minister of Kerala, EMS Namboodiripad faced action from the Supreme Court for contempt of court, after his remarks about the then state of judiciary.

EMS had alleged that in case of balanced evidence between a well-dressed pot-bellied rich man and poor ill-dressed and illiterate person, the judge instinctively favours the former. The remark has drawn courts’ ire and the Communist stalwart was found guilty of contempt of court. The court decision did ignite a huge debate then and recent development in Bombay High Court exposes why this debate is essential, even today.

Following the rape of a young woman in Delhi in a moving bus, the entire nation was shown to be agitated. Unrest among young men and women was evident on the streets of India’s capital. It followed by several protests across the country in cities like Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata etc. and in other parts of the country as well. The media went crazy; the government went on to become defensive. Her subsequent death angered us all. The women facing years of oppression chose to voice their discontent against the patriarchal society, the root cause of the crime. Debates, articles, twits, Facebook status updates, TV shows, street plays, awareness programs…everything was concentrated around the heinous crime that had taken place.

The youth who landed on streets asked for chemical castration of the accused, while some asked for death penalty. Nobody, except for few sane voices, wanted to see the accused (I am writing accused because they are yet not convicted by the court) alive. All sort of archaic punishments were suggested for them, which sometimes made us wonder whether we have developed as conscious human beings or not. Let me be very clear that I am not downplaying the crime they have committed. They should be punished, as per the law.

I won’t go in detail about the aftermath of this incident. We all know that the Delhi police launched search operation for the accused and arrested them. Subsequently they were sent to the police custody for interrogation. Many of us wanted and still want them to be hanged.

Let’s see what has happened in Mumbai.

On May 17, 2013, an FIR was filed against a well-known, high profile doctor from suburban Mumbai. The patient of Dr. Rustom Soonawala had accused him of raping her, while she had gone for a treatment on Tuberculosis in his clinic. Her husband was accompanying her and was sitting outside the clinic. Her husband is a tailor and was adviced to visit this particular doctor by his employer for the treatment. The treatment was on for last ten months. It was expected that police will undertake investigation and as happens in every rape case, seek for doctor’s police custody.

On May 18, when police called this doctor to the police station for inquiry, a miracle took place. Despite being accompanied by two policemen, one of them was sitting in the front sit (the doctor was driving his own car) and other was on back sit. The doctor flees in his own car, leaving both the policemen out of car. The accused is a well-known face in Mumbai’s social circuit and said to have taken agitations against Hawkers’ menace in the city. He remained absconding for next many days and police couldn’t find him, while he with the help of his family and friend filed for anticipatory bail application in the court.

The worse is yet to come.

In the Bombay high court, accompanied by hundreds of his ‘influential’, ‘higher class’ and ‘social’ supporters, his lawyer informed that the accused is ready for any medical examination that needed. The court accepting the assurance given by the accused, granted anticipatory bail to him. Ironically, the high court order itself mentioned that the semen was detected on the bed cover of the clinic. But the court did not find it necessary to give police a chance to investigate the reason for it. No police custody, no interrogation.

What does it mean? What if the accused in Delhi rape case had given the same assurance to Delhi court? What if the court had granted them bail on those grounds?

And more importantly, what if the victim in this case had been a model, a college student, a call centre employee or an MBA or IT professional? What if the accused had been a watchman, hawker or a vendor? What had we done then?

Let me be very clear on this point; I am not claiming that the said doctor is a convict. But yes, he is an accused in a rape case and his name is present in the FIR. Shouldn’t he be sent to police custody, at least for a day or two to know the truth? Who will be responsible, if in future, all the rape accused and their lawyers start referring to this case and the Bombay High Court’s verdict? “Don’t arrest us, I am ready for medical examination,” they might claim. Such precedent laid down by Honorable court could prove extremely dangerous in coming time.

Former Bombay High Court judge Suresh Hosbet in his remark over the case, at a public meeting called by Aam Adami Party, said, “This case has been damaged to a considerable extent at the investigation stage itself. What if the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s order? There has to be protest from the people on the street, to keep a check on such matters.”

Yes, peoples’ protest. The only solution! I second that…