New Delhi, February 26: An open petition has been submitted to the Chief Justice of Delhi with regard to the reduction in sentence awarded to a rape convict, Ashok Rai, by a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court. An Open Letter, submitted to Justice Shah, Chief Justice, Delhi High Court, was released at a Press Meet held today in Delhi.
The Press meet to release the letter was addressed by Ms. Kirti Singh, (Supreme Court Advocate), Ms. Sudha Sundararaman,(AIDWA), Dr. Indu Agnihotri (CWDS), Ms. Jyotsna Chatterjee, (JWP),) Ms. Kalpana David, and Ms.Annie Raja, (NFIW). They pointed out that more than a 100 signatures of eminent people including leading academics, social activists, and women's organizations on the letter proved the extent of concern regarding the acquittal of Ashok Rai by the Court. Signatories included Prof. Vina Mazumdar, Prof. Romila Thapar, Prof. Upendra Baxi, Dr. Mohini Giri, (former Chairperson NCW), Prof.. Bina Aggarwal, Prof. Zoya Hasan and representatives of leading national women's organizations like AIDWA, CWDS, GOS, JWP, NFIW, and YWCA.
Addressing the Press, spokespersons expressed concern at the grounds on which the rape convict's sentence has been reduced and at the precedent this would set. The signatories have requested that the Chief Justice of Delhi treat the open letter as a special petition for reviewing the judgement. If no action is taken, a Special Leave Petition would be filed in the Supreme Court on this issue within the stipulated period.
The Open letter, along with the names of the signatories, is enclosed for favour of publication.
OPEN LETTER TO THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE DELHI HIGH COURT
To, Date : 26th Feb. 2009
The Honourable Chief Justice
Dear Justice Ajit Prakash Shah ji,
We, the undersigned express our shock and deep concern over the recent judgment of the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court in which the sentence of a convicted rapist was reduced to five and a half years – which was the term he had already served in prison – because he had appeared for and qualified in the IAS entrance examination. The Court held that 'Rai has redeemed himself in jail (as) is evident from the fact that he took his civil service examinations and qualified for being appointed to the Indian Administrative Service. We are of the opinion that the sentence already suffered by him would meet the ends of justice.'
We would like to bring to your notice the facts of the case against Ashok Rai. He was accused of raping a young woman student who later committed suicide. The accused was convicted by the Trial Court of rape and abetment to suicide. The High Court, however, refused to believe that the conduct of the accused had driven the young woman to commit suicide despite the fact that the young woman had left behind a suicide note squarely blaming the accused for her suicide. The Court while upholding the conviction on the charge of rape, acquitted him of the charge of abetment to suicide. While dismissing the charge of abetment, the Court observed that the woman victim had committed 'some participatory act'. The Court, did however, take cognizance of the fact that the accused had induced the victim to engage in sexual intercourse with him by holding out the false promise of marrying her and that this constituted rape.
The reason given by the Court for reducing Rai's sentence is that he 'redeemed himself' by passing the IAS entrance examination. We, the undersigned, wish to point out that merely qualifying for the IAS cannot be a ground for reduction of sentence in a crime as heinous as rape. This is clear from the fact that cases of rape have been known to be committed by 'qualified' as well as 'unqualified' persons. The stated reason is in fact indicative of a class-bias towards educated persons. The judgment also reveals a patriarchal bias as it undermines the seriousness of the offence of rape. Rape is a violent assault that has its genesis in an assertion of power and is a violation of the personal integrity of women. We, therefore, further feel that a person convicted of rape should under no circumstances be allowed to become an administrative officer in any field. How can such a person be entrusted with ensuring the safety of women and the implementation of the laws of the land? We re-iterate that passing of the examination cannot be construed as a 'Special Reason' for reduction of the minimum sentence for rape.
The judgment sets an extremely retrograde and wrong precedent. We register our strong protest against it and urge upon you to review the judgment.
Dr. Vina Mazumdar, National Research Professor of Social Sciences, GOI
Prof. Romila Thapar, Professor Emeritus, JNU
Dr. (Captain) Lakshmi Sehgal
Prof. Zoya Hasan, Dept. of Political Science, JNU & Member, National Commission for Minorities
Dr. Mary E. John, Director, Centre for Women's Development Studies
Dr. Indu Agnihotri, Centre for Women's Development Studies
Ms. Subhashini Ali, President, All India Democratic Women's Association
Ms. Sudha Sundararaman, General Secretary, AIDWA
Ms. Mohini Giri, Chairperson, Guild of Service
Dr. Jyotsna Chatterji, Director, Joint Women's Programme
Prof. Upendra Baxi, University of Warwick, UK & former Vice Chancellor, Delhi University.
Prof. Muchkund Dubey, President, Council for Social Development, New Delhi
Mr. Mukul Dube, Delhi, Freelance editor, writer, photographer