Women’s rights activists in India hailed on Thursday (2) a supreme court ruling rejecting judge-ordered mediation between rapists and their victims, a legal move they said was common in the conservative country.
The supreme court issued the warning after a public outcry over a judge’s decision to grant a convicted rapist bail to allow him to try to negotiate with his victim in the hope of marriage.
The apex court said judges should steer away from ordering mediation which would not only be a “spectacular error” but a blow to the dignity of women.
“These are offences which suffocate the breath of life and sully the reputation” of women, justices Dipak Misra and PC Pant said in their written judgement on Wednesday.
“The conception of compromise, under no circumstances, can be thought of in a case of rape or attempt to rape.”
Ranjana Kumari, one of India’s leading women activists, applauded the ruling, saying judges in lower courts often suggested mediation as a means of dispute resolution rather than meting out justice.
“Any mediation between rapists and the survivor is illegal. We welcome it and hope the lower courts abide by the ruling,” Kumari said.
Lawyer and activist Vrinda Grower said the ruling was unambiguous and a warning to lower courts that tried to use mediation in future.
The supreme court’s ruling comes after a Madras high court judge advised a rapist, who he gave interim bail to, to mediate with his victim who was 15 at the time of the attack and had given birth to a child.
Women having children out of wedlock is taboo in many parts of India where marriages are often arranged between families.
The supreme court’s ruling was made while upholding an appeal against a different high court’s decision to set free another rapist by changing the offence to assault.
The court made the decision on suggestions that the criminal was planning to reach a settlement with his victim’s family in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
Sexual violence remains a major problem in India more than two years after the fatal gang rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012 unleashed public outrage about the treatment of women.
India’s notoriously slow legal system takes years to dispense justice, even for crimes such as rape and murder, with many victims forced to withdraw their cases or reach a settlement.