English Mistake? Chief Justice Clarifies Remarks in Rape Case

The President, Ram Nath Kovind, administering the oath of office to Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, as the Chief Justice of India, at a swearing-in ceremony, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on November 18, 2019. Photo: PIB (file photo)
The President, Ram Nath Kovind, administering the oath of office to Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, as the Chief Justice of India, at a swearing-in ceremony, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on November 18, 2019. Photo: PIB (file photo)

Women activists had asked the Chief Justice to step down from his post without a moment’s delay. But he did not accept their demand.

By Rakesh Raman

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde has clarified that he did not ask the rape accused to marry his victim during a court hearing. Bobde said in his clarification issued today (March 8) that there was a complete misreporting on the matter, adding that the Supreme Court has full respect for women.

Earlier, a group of more than 4,000 women’s rights activists, progressive groups, and prominent citizens had written an open letter to Bobde, asking him to resign for his loose remarks in the rape case.

With his clarification, it appears that Bobde said in the court what he did not intend to say. In all probability, it was a faux pas as most members of the Indian judiciary (lawyers as well as judges) lack English language skills. 

The English language used in Indian courts is so bad that it is not possible to make heads or tails of the sentences written in the court documents, including petitions and orders. 

The trouble begins in the Indian law institutes – colleges and universities – most of which do not have qualified teachers to teach proper English to students. The focus of these institutes is on imparting traditional law education which is not sufficient to prepare students to survive in today’s communications-driven world.

Perhaps Chief Justice Bobde also made a language mistake rather than a behavioural blunder. But his remarks drew an angry response from activists who asked him to step down for his obnoxious utterance.

The letter from the activists said that Bobde had asked a rapist to marry his school-going victim and justified marital rape in the Supreme Court. While hearing the bail request of the accused government employee, Mohit Subhash Chavan, a bench headed by CJI Bobde told him, “If you want to marry we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail. You seduced the girl, raped her.”

On March 1, the Supreme Court was hearing the bail plea of Mohit Subhash Chavan, who has been accused of raping a schoolgirl and faces charges under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) law.

“We are not forcing you to marry. Let us know if you will. Otherwise you will say we are forcing you to marry her,” the Chief Justice continued, while staying the man’s arrest for one month.

These remarks – which seem to suggest raping a minor is okay as long as the rapist marries the girl later – caused widespread outrage. In their open letter, the activists say, “It fills us with rage that women bear the burden of having to explain the meaning of ‘seduction’, ‘rape’, and ‘marriage’ even to the Chief Justice of India, who holds the power and duty to interpret the Constitution of India and sit in judgement.”

The signatories also bring up the Indian justice system’s marred track record when it comes to dealing with violence against women and sexual harassment, saying ‘Enough is enough’.

The open letter – published by The Wire news service – has been endorsed by a number of well-known women’s rights activists. They asked CJI to step down from his post without a moment’s delay. But he did not accept their demand.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.

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