Bengaluru molestation: Survivor's lack of involvement is understandable and shouldn't be judged

The CCTV footage had shocked India. The brazenness with which six stalkers swooped on the young girl in Kammanahalli area in east Bengaluru at 2.40 am on the intervening night of 31 December and 1 January, was seen as proof that wolves lay in wait in India's Silicon Valley. Two of them molested and threw her on the road, the halogen lamp-lit Bengaluru street a mute witness to her shock, trauma and anger. Four of the accused were arrested on 5 January and the other two in the next four days, with the police filing a suo moto case based on the CCTV footage.

A month later, the police are yet to formally identify the accused, increasing the possibility of the accused walking out on bail. That's because the survivor, despite being asked several times, is unwilling to appear for an identification parade. The police say the survivor who is a student who recently moved to Bengaluru, "Does not want to get into court cases and scar her future.'' A senior police officer handling the case says she is not scared but annoyed that the CCTV footage went public and everyone came to know about the neighbourhood she lived in.

The Bengaluru police was under tremendous pressure to crack the case at the earliest because it came on the back of an alleged case of mass molestation at Brigade Road and MG Road on the same New Year's Eve night. It still says that based on circumstantial evidence it will make it difficult for the accused to secure bail. Apart from the CCTV footage, they secured the mobile phone numbers that were active in that area at that time of the night and gathered information from locals about the six men, two of who worked as delivery agents at a restaurant nearby.

Representational photo. Reuters

Representational photo. Reuters

The cops have visited the victim at home, to make her feel at ease about the case but the identification parade in which the accused are mixed up with several other very similar looking men for the victim to identify, is an essential part of the criminal investigation system. The Identification parade is conducted inside prison in the presence of a judicial magistrate and no policeman is present during it.

The victim was again asked to be part of the identification parade on Tuesday, exactly one month after the incident, but she did not turn up. The Bengaluru police will give her another date next week. But senior officers say that she is adamant she does not want to be part of the case.

This is not the first case where a victim has refused to take part in an identification parade anywhere in India. The police say they understand that it is emotionally traumatic for the woman to see the faces of their perpetrators all over again. The atmosphere of a jail only makes it more intimidating for the survivor.

While it is easy to blame the survivor for backing out, the fact remains that she is often alone in this big battle. For the police, it is just another case number and for the media, just another story. It is easy for the media and Bengaluru's civil society to brag about how it played a part in ensuring the accused were brought to book but while they move on, the victim does not. In this case, her life has already been subjected to scrutiny, with people even blaming her for coming home so late.

It is but natural for her and her family to ask if there is a guarantee that her safety will be taken care of, if she deposes against the six accused. All of them have lived in that area for long and it is quite possible they could ensure she is harmed by another accomplice if she ensures a longer stay in jail for them. India's witness protection mechanism has little to recommend itself.

Clinical psychiatrist Purnima Nagaraja who counsels both victims and accused in cases of rape or molestation in Hyderabad points out that the accused, even if convicted, will not serve a long sentence behind bars. "Within a year, they will be out. What if they stalk her again or throw acid on her to take revenge,'' asks Purnima Nagaraja.

While in this case, the Bengaluru police seems to have been sensitive to the survivor's plight, in most instances, the cops are the ones who need sensitisation. Victim-judging most often first takes place inside the police station, when the woman musters the courage to go and file a complaint.

What the survivor in this case is doing is to buy peace. Yes, it is not the most responsible thing to do but clearly at this point in time, she is thinking only about herself and not thinking about sending a larger message to society. It is quite possible it could make her perpetrators walk out on bail but she clearly does not want to spend a significant part of her life, fighting a long legal battle, reminding herself of that horrific walk back home.

The police are disappointed as the identification parade would have strengthened the case. Ideally it should have been conducted by now to ensure the victim does not forget the faces. Their only hope is that in case the victim is very particular about not cooperating, her testimony recorded before a judicial magistrate, will carry weight.

Updated Date: Feb 01, 2017 10:52 AM

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