Life Sentence for Rupam

In a gross miscarriage of justice, a special CBI Court in Patna passed a life sentence on Bihar school teacher Rupam Pathak, holding her guilty of culpable homicide of Bihar’s Purnea MLA Raj Kishor Kesri.

It must be remembered that the Bihar CM was forced to order a CBI enquiry into the Rupam Pathak case precisely because of public protests against the Bihar Government’s attempts to smear Rupam Pathak’s character and suppress the history of her complaints of rape and sexual harassment against the BJP MLA Kesri and his aide BN Rai. But the CBI enquiry has merely probed the killing of Kesri, and has failed to investigate Rupam Pathak’s complaint of sexual harassment. Not only that, BN Rai was not even arrested – allowing him to be free to influence and threaten witnesses. While rape-accused BN Rai remained free, Rupam Pathak herself was denied bail, and prevented from having any opportunity to clear her name!

Rupam’s long-standing complaint of rape and sexual harassment by Kesri and his aide BN Rai had been ignored by the Bihar police and the BJP-JD(U) alliance, of which Kesri was a prominent leader. She had sought justice by filing an FIR, but had withdrawn her case on the eve of the Assembly elections, obviously under political pressure. Seeing no hope of justice, Rupam Pathak was pushed to take the desperate step of confronting Kesri in his own house, in full public view.

After the incident, prominent leaders in the Government including the Deputy CM of Bihar, as well as Opposition leaders such as Laloo Yadav, branded Rupam Pathak a blackmailer and a killer, while extolling praises of Kesri’s pure character and heroism.

The verdict, by failing to take into account the extreme provocation and desperation Rupam felt, due to the faint prospect of any justice against her powerful rapists and sexual harassers, and awarding her a punishment as severe as life sentence, displays a gender bias. In the landmark Kiranjit Ahluwalia case of Britain, a life sentence awarded to a woman victim of domestic violence who took her husband’s life, was relaxed following a sustained campaign by women’s groups, which resulted in domestic violence being recognised as a mitigating circumstance of extreme provocation. The Rupam Pathak case ought to be a similar instance in Indian jurisprudence, where desperate acts by women who have been subjected to sexual violence ought to be seen in the context of the failure of our systems to provide a credible prospect of justice for women. This ought to hold true especially in cases of repeated and prolonged sexual abuse or harassment, where attempts to secure justice through the police have been subverted or crushed.

The Rupam Pathak verdict is reminiscent of other cases of skewed justice in Nitish’s Bihar, where the ruling forces patronise criminals and perpetrators of atrocities towards women and Dalits.

The rulers of Bihar are eager to consign Rupam to jail and suppress her accusations of rape and sexual harassment because they threaten the image of the ruling political alliance. The life sentence to Rupam is a life sentence for a woman’s voice demanding justice against rape and sexual harassment and taking on the ruling political establishment to which the rapists belong. We must demand bail and justice for Rupam Pathak, the immediate arrest of BN Rai, and a re-investigation by the CBI into the whole case in the light of Rupam Pathak’s complaints of sexual violence.

Liberation Archive