Netizens expressed outrage over the observation made by a district sessions court in Kerala on Wednesday, 17 August, that the offence under sexual harassment is not prima facie attracted when the woman is wearing a "sexually provocative dress."
Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) Chairperson Swati Maliwal reacted to the court's observation, labelling it as the "mindset that blames the victim for sexual abuse."
"According to the Kerala Court, the complaint of sexual harassment will not be valid if the clothes of the girl are 'Aggravating' or 'Sexually Provocative!" Maliwal tweeted in Hindi.
"When will the mindset that blames the victim for sexual abuse change? The Kerala High Court should take immediate cognisance of this," she added.
A district sessions court in Kozhikode made the observation while granting anticipatory bail to 74-year-old social activist and writer Civic Chandran in a sexual harassment case.
The accused had also submitted photographs of the complainant along with the bail plea.
"The photographs produced along with the bail application by the accused would reveal that the de-facto complainant herself is exposing to dresses which are having some sexual provocative one. So Section 354A will not prima facie stand against the accused," the court noted.
'Unfortunate': Kerala Women's Commission Chairperson
Expressing concern over the observation made by the court, Kerala Women's Commission Chairperson P Satheedevi termed it "unfortunate".
She added that by making such references even before the evidence is presented and the trial is held, the court is effectively dismissing the allegations levelled by the complainant.
"This sends a very wrong message in serious cases like rape," Satheedevi said.
V P Sanu, national president of the Students Federation of India (SFI), also labelled the court's order as "regressive" and "absolute nonsense."
"The Kozhikode Sessions Court, while granting bail to activist Civic Chandran in a sexual harassment case, has made regressive observations. The logic women invite sexual assault for their dress is both victim blaming & invoking rape-victim stereotypes. Also, an absolute nonsense," Sanu tweeted.
The observation by the Kerala court also recieved flak from several other Twitter users. One such user tweeted, “Can we stop victim blaming/shaming? And please don’t blame the clothes when a sexual harassment complaint is filed.”
Another user rhetorically asked the court what kind of clothes women should not wear if they don’t want to be sexually harassed.
“Ladies, another precaution to add to the list. Just waiting for Kerala Court to tell us what kind of clothes we shouldn’t wear if we don’t want to be sexually harassed," she said.
Another user said that "women in India have been raped in ghunghats & burqas too."
Posing a question, she asked, "So what exactly is a 'sexually provocative dress' and what is not? Because women in this nation have been raped in ghunghats & burqas too. What exactly can we do to stop being sexually provocative to men?"
Another user said that, "Would be nice and helpful to have a guide on what's not sexually provocative dressing given that women in sarees, burqas, little girls in school uniforms, literal small babies in baby clothes, trans-women, dead women, old women...they all face sexual assault."
Another netizen said, "Women will always be subjected to disproportionate scrutiny for "implicating innocent men". Scrutiny to extents where the court can set arbitrary undefined standards to ensure that men can do as they please. Not a new precedent but one that will haunt us (like the others)."
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