Anusha Rizvi on Mahmood Farooqui’s Acquittal and Rape Allegations
“I was locked away with my husband. That’s how it felt,” says Anusha Rizvi.
On 18 January 2018, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal against the Delhi High Court’s acquittal of Mahmood Farooqui, who had been accused of rape by a US citizen. A trial court had earlier convicted Farooqui of the charges, relying on the survivor’s testimony and dismissing Farooqui’s attempts to deny that the incident had occurred.
While overturning the trial court order, the High Court came under attack for its stand on consent – holding that a feeble no could be a yes in certain circumstances – and for not relying on the survivor’s testimony despite called it sterling.
The HC had also accepted an entirely new line of argument from Farooqui and his lawyers than had not been presented before the trial court. You can read about the problems with the High Court decision here.
Farooqui’s wife Anusha Rizvi, a filmmaker who co-directed Peepli Live with him, spoke to The Quint about the Supreme Court’s decision and how the legal process has affected their lives.
NB: Rizvi had initially acknowledged the survivor’s allegations against Farooqui by email and assured her of support, but changed her stance as the case progressed (further details below).
Anusha, has it sunk in, that your husband is finally a free man?
Anusha Rizvi: No. No. not yet. It hasn’t sunk in. Mahmood and I were sitting together at home when the lawyer called to tell us the Supreme Court’s verdict. I can’t put in words what I feel..what we feel…These last few years have been….
Anusha Rizvi: Yes, to say the least. And I’ve learnt so much about the laws of our land. You and I don’t understand the language of the law at all. We are not supposed to. There are experts who are supposed to understand the law. In the past few years I’ve tried to understand the legal process. I am not fully clued in. But I do know that we really must stop misusing the legal procedure.
What do you mean?
Rizvi: I mean, what has changed since the Nirbhaya case? Little children are being brutally raped and murdered in Haryana. What are we doing about that? Instead, the focus is on celebrity cases because they get the eyeballs. But many of these celebrity cases are nothing but relationships gone wrong or as in the case of Aziz Ansari, a date gone wrong…I mean look at that whole thing with Aziz Ansari. What are we doing?
Did you at any time feel your husband may be guilty of the rape that he was accused of?
Rizvi: (Falls Silent). Look, anything I say will make me sound like one of those defensive wives of a rape ‘accused’ who insist on their husband’s innocence even when all evidence indicates otherwise. In my husband’s case there was no evidence at all of any crime.
It is part of the public record as detailed in the High Court’s judgment that on 12 April 2015, Rizvi sent an email to the survivor, saying the following:
“I am deeply disturbed by your email. What you have described is an ordeal. I cannot imagine how you have dealt with it so far. Needless to say that I stand with you. If you require any help of any nature including legal, I will assist. This is completely unacceptable behaviour, especially for me since it happened under my roof.”
She went on to say that:
“I really don’t know how to express how responsible I feel. I have already spoken with his psychiatrist, and we both feel that this matter should be reported to the authorities if you so wish.”
This was reaffirmed by her in an email dated 15 April 2015, in which she said:
“I hope that you will be able to overcome this horrible incident. As I said before, his brothers and I will completely support you in whatever you wish to do about it.”
The stance she has subsequently taken, in the courts and after, has differed from these statements made by her.
You mean, you feel it was a consensual relationship that went wrong?
Rizvi: I am not even saying that. I am not saying that at all. The courts could find no evidence to support her claim at all. And mind you, the courts didn’t even consider our arguments. It was only her allegations that were studied by the courts and these indicated no guilt.
Anusha, do you think there is a lot of ‘witch-hunting’ going on. Men are scared to even pay a compliment or crack a joke with women they’ve known for years?
Rizvi: Look, I am all for women coming forward to speak of sexual harassment. Why should they not speak? For centuries now women have been given a raw deal. But how do we define sexual harassment? What are the boundaries and the restrictions that must not be crossed? And who decides these boundaries? I am a feminist, and not just in theory. I’ve spent a lot of time fighting for gender equality. But gender equality doesn’t mean men should be hauled over the coals for relationships gone wrong, or even a date gone wrong. When Mahmood was in jail I would visit him and meet so many young men from well-to-do backgrounds, holding terrific jobs blessed with dreamy lives, now in jail because their relationship ended badly and they were accused of rape.
It is terrifying?
Rizvi: It is. I truly believe 2013 was a watershed year for rape laws. Suddenly the equations changed. But you can’t make victims of men just because the rape-count in the jails is low. A woman should think of what she is doing when she accuses a man of a sex crime. When a man goes to jail his whole family goes to jail with him. The women in the family go to jail with the man of the house. The wife goes to jail. I was locked away with my husband. That’s how it felt.
How have you come out of the ordeal?
Rizvi: We had no money. If I had to spend money on fighting the case I’d be financially ruined. Luckily for me and Mahmood, our lawyers fought our case pro bono. They didn’t charge a single penny. Yes, that’s how they believed in my husband’s innocence after studying the case. But we both lost something much more valuable than money during the legal crisis.
What is that?
Rizvi: Mahmood and I both lost our fathers. My father saw me suffer but went knowing that my husband was declared not guilty by the courts. But Mahmood’s father went without knowing his son was cleared by the courts. It is a burden we will all live with all our lives. Who is going to give us back the time and loved ones that we’ve lost?
How has this experience impacted your marriage?
Rizvi: How do I explain this to you? I’ve known Mahmood for decades. He was my friend before he was my husband. He is not capable of any violence. When I say this, I speak not as a wife but a friend who knows everything about him. He cannot hurt an animal, let alone a human being. My marriage could never be affected by this. We are two friends married to one another. We know each other in and out.
What do you think of the current campaign in Hollywood against sexual harassment?
Rizvi: It is great that women and men are addressing the issue of gender politics and sexual boundaries. But somewhere we need to draw a line between sex crimes and imagined versions of it. Please think it out before making an allegation. When a man is accused of a sex crime his entire family suffers with him.
(We Indians have much to talk about these days. But what would you tell India if you had the chance? Pick up the phone and write or record your Letter To India. Don’t be silent, tell her how you feel. Mail us your letter at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll make sure India gets your message.)
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