Invoking the character: gender prejudices in our media and legal trials
4 minutes read
Posted by Anne Mary Shaju
“Vairamuthu was considered by the jury for his excellent writing. I do not know if the jury knows that this is a person facing such charges. My personal opinion is that the rewards should not be decided on the basis of character. As president of the Cultural Society, I do not intervene in the decisions of the jury», Adoor Gopalakrishnan who chaired the jury of ONV price had told the Malayalam web portal, Tail, following protests against its attribution to Tamil poet Vairamuthu who was accused in the 2018 #MeToo movement.
Around the same time, a district court in Goa acquitted a journalist Tarun Tejpal in a rape case in 2013, questioned the complainant’s conduct, believing that she did not show any sort of “Normative behavior” such as the trauma and shock that a sexual assault victim might show.
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These are two separate events with one common factor: the emphasis on the character of the person involved in a crime as the accused and the victim, respectively. Especially when the #MeToo movement was in power, debates over whether a person’s character should be taken into consideration while recognizing a person’s talent arose. Some of the questions raised were: Can we really distance the artist from art; Isn’t that part of the artist? However, the way the Goa Sessions Court questioned the character of the victim of the sexual assault, in an attempt to discredit her complaint, although the accused confessed to the crime, was clearly one-sided and disturbing to see. The sexist prejudices of the Indian courts were visible to everyone when, on the one hand, the victim is questioned about his personality and, on the other hand, the personality of the accused is given the benefit of doubt.
Also earlier, we noticed the court’s expectations regarding prescribed victim behavior: the statement of the Karnataka High Court is a glaring example. In a statement which was later retracted into the Rakesh B case against the State of Karnataka, the judge said it was “not the way our women reacted when they are elated.”
According to Indian courts, there appear to be certain prescribed standards of character that a person should present if he or she is the victim. Apparently, they should stay away from others, isolate themselves from any kind of happiness for a certain period of time and this period should never be short: the longer the better. Meanwhile, life after being charged is different for them, depending on the privileges they have. The more privileges, the shorter the shelf life of character assassination they probably should have faced.
Two major scams in recent years in Kerala are the Solar scam in which many of those who invested in a fictitious solar energy company were fooled in the process and the most recent gold smuggling case in which 30 kg of gold was seized from diplomatic baggage addressed to the Consulate of the United Arab Emirates. Among the main defendants in both cases were women: Saritha S.Nair and Swapna Suresh, who were respectively involved in these cases. Whether they have received a fair trial or not, they certainly continue to undergo cycles of objectification and personal injury in the media and by the general public, to the point where these women have become synonymous. of cases. Meanwhile, the men who participated in it did not find their bodies objectified and their characters dissected. You can easily find memes and trolls on “Solar Saritha” and “The Smuggler Swapna” and if we looked on adult sites, videos with their faces transformed. Although this example does not justify their involvement in said cases, it aims to make a difference in the media trial that the guilty women faced (harsh judgments being drawn on their character) when only the crimes of the men were concentrated ( without reference to their character or absence.)
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The accused and the victim are treated differently and should behave differently, depending on their gender. When the crime is committed by a man, the media coverage is more about the crime since it is an expected behavior of them – “men are aggressive”. If it is a woman, then their character takes over the crime: “How can a woman do it?”, since the attributes attributed to a woman are calm, loving and caring. For example, the case of Jolly shaju was the subject of discussion for months, referencing her deviation from the role of a devoted mother, wife and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, we haven’t seen the same kind of vigor in the media when Candell Jeanson RajaThe case arose, as both cases involved serial murders of family members. The only difference was that of the sex of the accused.
It is quite evident that to this day our media trials and our courts continue to be influenced by patriarchal mindsets, especially when it comes to the murder of female victims and accused. While on the one hand, the women victims are subjected to a trial for not having expressed their “ideal victim”, while the accused women are subjected to an attack on their personality because they are abnormalities in apart from the perfect femininity of the patriarchy.
Anne Mary Shaju is a first year MAHistory student at the University of Delhi. She is a history student whose fields of interest include gender, subordinate, oral, social, political and economic histories. You can find it on Instagram.
Image Credit: Arpita Biswas / Feminism in India