“Vairamuthu was considered by the jury for his excellent writing. I do not know if the jury knows he is a person facing such charges. My personal opinion is that awards should not be decided on the basis of character. As chairman of the Cultural Society, I do not interfere in the decisions of the jury,” Adoor Gopalakrishnan who headed the jury of ONV awards had said to Malayalam web portal, The Cue, following the protests against awarding it to Tamil poet, Vairamuthu who was accused in the 2018 #MeToo movement.
Quite around the same time, a sessions court in Goa while acquitting journalist Tarun Tejpal in a 2013 rape case questioned the woman complainant’s conduct, holding that she did not exhibit any kind of “normative behaviour” such as trauma and shock which a victim of sexual assault might show.
These are two distinct events with a common factor: emphasising on the character of the person involved in a crime as the accused and the victim, respectively. Especially when the #MeToo movement was in full power, debates on whether the character of a person should be taken into consideration while acknowledging a person’s talent came up. Some of the questions raised were: Can we really take the artist away from the art; Isn’t it a part of the artist? However, the way the sessions court of Goa questioned the character of the victim of the sexual assault, in an attempt to discredit her complaint, despite the accused having confessed to the crime, was evidently biased and troubling to witness. The gender-based bias of the Indian courts of law was out for everyone to see when on one hand, the victim is being questioned on their character and on the other, the character of the accused was given the benefit of doubt.
Earlier too, we have noticed the court’s expectations of a prescribed behaviour for the victim to follow: the statement of the Karnataka High Court is a glaring example. In a statement which was later retracted in the Rakesh B v/s State of Karnataka case, the judge had said that this was “not the way our women reacted when they are ravished.”
Going by the Indian courts of law, there seems to be some prescribed norms of character a person should exhibit if they are the victim. Apparently, they should keep themselves away from others, isolate themselves from any sort of happiness for a certain period of time and that period should never be short: the longer the better. Meanwhile, the life after being accused is different for them, depending on the privileges they have. The more the privileges, the shorter is the shelf life of the character assassination they probably would have had to face.
Two major scams in recent years in Kerala are the Solar scam in which many who invested in a fictitious solar energy company were cheated in the process and the more recent gold smuggling case in which 30kg gold was seized from a diplomatic baggage that was addressed to UAE consulate. Among the main accused in both cases were women: Saritha S.Nair and Swapna Suresh, who were involved in these cases respectively. Whether they were subjected to a fair trial or not, they definitely continue to go through rounds and rounds of objectification and character assassination in the media and by the general public, to the point that these women became synonymous to the cases. Meanwhile, the men who were involved in it did not find their bodies being objectified and their characters being dissected. One can readily find memes and trolls on “Solar Saritha” and “Smuggler Swapna” and if one were to look up on adult sites, videos with their faces morphed. While this example is not to justify their involvement in the said cases, it is to draw a difference in the media trial the women perpetrators faced (with heavy judgments being drawn on their character) while just the crimes of the men were focused on (without references to their character or the lack of.)
Both the accused and the victim, is treated differently and is expected to behave differently, on the basis of their gender. When the crime is done by a man, the media coverage is more on the crime since that is a behaviour expected of them – “men are aggressive”. If it is a woman, then their character takes over the crime: “How can a woman do it?”, given how the attributes assigned to a woman are calm, loving and caring. For instance, the case of Jolly Shaju was being discussed for months, with references to her digressing from the role of a dutiful mother, wife and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, we did not see the same kind of vigour in media when Candell Jeanson Raja‘s case came up, while both the cases were of the serial murders of family members. The only difference was that of the accused’s gender.
It is quiet evident that till date our media trials and courts of law continue to be impacted by patriarchal mindsets, especially when it comes to character assassinating female victims and accused. While on one hand, female victims are subjected to trial for not expressing ‘ideal victimhood’, female accused become subject to character assassination for being anomalies outside patriarchy’s perfect womanhood.
Image Credit: Arpita Biswas/Feminism in India