Twirling his moustache and flashing an occasional smirk at his virtual audience, Babu claimed that he was the “real victim,” whose reputation was being tarnished by the complainant and her supporters, who he called “leeches.”
And then, consciously and publicly breaking the law, he named the survivor.
“I’m not scared. I have to be scared only if I’ve done something wrong. And though I respect the law of the country, I have to say that I’m the victim here, and not her (the survivor),” said Babu, the founder of a well-known Malayalam production company, Friday Film House.
Babu’s FB live came shortly after the Ernakulam South Police booked him for rape, based on the survivor’s complaint.
He has been on the run since and is rumoured to be abroad. The police have issued a lookout notice against him.
After the actor-producer claimed his “innocence” on FB, the survivor put out an anonymous statement on the page ‘Women Against Sexual Harassment,’ which contained gory details of his alleged sexual assault on her.
Since then, one more survivor has come forward with sexual harassment allegations against him.
Legal Consequences of Naming the Survivor
In the 10-minute live, 45-year-old Vijay Babu minced no words in admitting that he named the survivor deliberately. “My mother, wife, kid, friends, and the people who love me – when they are suffering, and when I, the victim, am suffering, why should she be happy? She’s under our so-called law’s protection, she’s safe. How is that fair?” he asked.
Section 228A of the IPC protects the anonymity of victims/survivors of rape, and by breaking this law, one may be sentenced to up to two years of jail and is liable to be fined.
“We have registered two cases against him. One for rape and the other for revealing the identity of the survivor,” VU Kuriakose, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), Kochi City, was quoted as saying by The Hindu.
Regardless of whether he is convicted of rape, according to 228A, his prosecution is a given if he is alleged or found to have disclosed the identity of the survivor; in other words, there’s really no need to prove it.
And that is precisely why it is unheard of for a rape accused to deliberately name the survivor. As a result, there aren’t many precedents to indicate conviction under this law.
Most cases pertain to the media naming victims/survivors – the latest being the Kathua rape case – and in some cases (say, Malayalam actor Aju Varghese inadvertently naming the survivor in the 2017 actor assault case), criminal proceedings are quashed after an apology.
But Babu, a man of considerable power and influence in the Malayalam film industry, claimed he was not afraid of the law and was “ready to face the repercussions, no matter the case.”
The survivor, on the other hand, is now forced to deal with the anxieties of having her name and face plastered all over social media, along with the bullying and social stigma that comes with it.
Though there are legal remedies to counter this, she would still have to take the time and effort to pursue them while coping with the trauma.
The fact remains that the consequences of Babu’s statement and the precedent it sets appear far more immediate and troubling for the survivor and the #MeToo movement at large.
What Outing the Survivor Means for #MeToo Movement
By naming the survivor, Vijay Babu intended to change the course of the #MeToo movement, conveniently implying that it encouraged false allegations.
“Let this be a new chapter in MeToo. There are some laws that say you can’t name the victim. But since I’m the victim here and she’s not, I am saying her name. We will fight. I am marking the beginning of this fight.”Vijay Babu, actor accused of rape
The #MeToo movement, since its inception, has offered a platform for survivors to name their abusers anonymously. As a result, it has helped them speak out, even about incidents of abuse from years ago.
The movement helped take the blame and shame of the abuse off the survivor and place it on the abuser. From Harvey Weinstein to LoSHA, #MeToo has attempted to bring down men in power and build a system of empathy and solidarity for the survivors.
Babu’s statements, however, challenged this anonymity with no regard for the law, and this, in turn, may deter other survivors from speaking up anonymously, let alone formally.
His call for a “break” in the #MeToo movement would favour all persons accused of sexual abuse and his sentiment was echoed in the several comments of support that flooded his FB live.
Needless to add, they were also filled with abuses directed at the survivor.
The actor also tried discrediting the survivor by claiming she was depressed and that it was she who approached him.
While it is for the court to decide whether the crime was committed, his claim is in tune with the age-old patriarchal tactic of questioning the character of the survivor and plays to the (un)natural assumption that a complaint of sexual assault is almost always false.
False Sense of Victimhood
Over the course of the FB live, Vijay Babu claimed he was the ira (victim) not once but multiple times. This sense of victimhood not only appeals to the psyche of the ‘Not All Men’ squad, but also encourages abusers to use it as a weapon to discredit their victims and gain sympathy.
The rhetoric isn’t new. During the trial of the 2017 actress assault case, actor Dileep, one of the accused in the said case, gave an interview to Malayalam magazine Vanitha, which glorified him as a hero fighting for the truth.
The interview, which was a PR exercise to repaint him as a victim and a self-righteous person, was rife with phrases like, “I pray not to go crazy until the truth comes out,” and “I don’t know why a lot of people harbour animosity towards me.”
The goal of the interview was plain: it aimed at emotionally manipulating readers by whitewashing his “tainted image.”
But Babu’s narrative wasn’t as subtle.
Towards the end of his FB live, he said something with a conceited smile – “I’m the victim here, but I’m okay” – willfully assuming the role of someone “who’s been through hell”.
Ironically, each time he said the word victim, his body language screamed entitlement and toxic masculinity.
It is apparent that Babu wanted to be perceived as a “trailblazer” in the cause of toppling the #MeToo movement, and truth be told, actions like his may be the first of many in cases of sexual assault.