New Delhi, India
As I exit my apartment, the overwhelming dry heat of Delhi engulfs me and I am reminded of an oven. Except where an oven usually holds a pleasant and savory smell, the Delhi streets reek of… well… some things not so pleasant. Climbing the stairs to the bridge of the Kailash Colony Metro Station and looking out, the horizon is clouded with a hazy veil of pollution casting a sepia tint across the landscape. It is my first time in a third world country, and even in the mist of chaos, I am enjoying myself. Most things are up for negotiation and navigating the streets is always an adventure.
I will spend my summer working for Jonathan Derby, a Pepperdine alumnus, on creating a legal aid clinic focused on helping victims of violent sexual assault in their cases against the accused. Article 301(2) of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure provides that “[i]f in any such case any private person instructs a pleader to prosecute any person in any Court, the Public Prosecutor or Assistant Public Prosecutor in charge of the case shall conduct the prosecution, and the pleader so instructed shall act therein under the directions of the Public Prosecutor or Assistant Public Prosecutor, and may, with permission of the Court, submit written arguments after the evidence is closed in the case.”
This enables a private attorney to assist the public prosecutor on the victim’s behalf. My role in these initial stages is to analyze recent court decisions to find patterns and reasons why certain cases lead to convictions or acquittals. The clinic aims to identify and solve problems during witness testimony, evidence handling, and police investigation.
Having read through over a hundred cases I have noticed several disturbing and surprising patterns. A substantial amount of cases reported in the District Courts of Delhi deal with situations in which a “victim” has willingly eloped with the accused person, and the parents have filed suit claiming that the defendant kidnapped and forced themselves on the individual, in an attempt to break up the marriage. A common reason for this is because the accused is from a lower caste than the victim.
When this occurs the “victim” will either turn hostile to the prosecution’s case or succumb to their parent’s pressure and fabricate a story. In these circumstances the witness’s testimony is usually unbelievable as often times the accused will submit wedding photos and other witness testimony to corroborate their consensual relationship with the victim. These frivolous suits are an additional burden to a system already overworked and hinder the ability for true victims to have their voices heard. Additionally, there are problems of police embellishment, failures of investigation, and male authority figures having a preconception that the woman “was asking for it.”
There are laws are in place to punish and deter aggressors. Most of the problems I have found are during law enforcement and investigation stages. India has its share of problems, but it aspires to be greater as evidenced by its laws and intolerance for violence. The difficulties I find, like so many things, are in implementation.