India’s top judge, who faced calls by women’s rights activists to resign for allegedly asking a rape accused to marry the minor survivor, has said his remarks were “completely misreported” and that he asked the question in a different context.
Sharad Arvind Bobde, India’s chief justice, on Monday said the Supreme Court has the "highest respect” for womanhood and that he never suggested a man accused of rape marry the survivor. He said he asked the man the question in context of the promise he had made to her years ago.
“As an institution and as a bench in this court, we have always had the highest respect for the womanhood. This court has always given the largest respect to women,” Mr Bobde said on Monday.
“We never asked the accused to marry the girl. We asked him ‘Are you going to marry her’. There was complete misreporting of what we said,” he added.
The comments from the chief justice came after he faced flak for his controversial statements made during the accused’s bail hearing last week.
On 1 March, the Supreme Court was hearing the bail request of accused Mohit Subhash Chavan, who is a government official, facing charges for raping the woman who was 16 years old at the time of the crime, around six years ago. The complaint was filed in the case in 2019 after he backtracked from his promise of marrying her when she turns 18.
“Will you marry her?” Indian Express quoted Mr Bobde as asking the man. “If you want to marry, we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail. You seduced the girl, raped her. We are not forcing you. Later you may say court forced you.”
The accused submitted a request to the court that he should not be arrested as he is a government servant and he would lose his job according to his service rules. The court replied: “You should have thought before seducing and raping the young girl. You knew you were a government servant.”
Following the court hearing, India media outlets widely reported the chief justice’s statement which sparked outrage in social media.
A number of feminists, women’s rights groups, and activists on 2 March released an open letter to the chief justice demanding that he retract his words, tender an apology to women, and step down from his post without delay. Over 5,000 people signed the petition demanding his resignation.
The court said the criticism was unfair and the statements were based on "judicial records" which had an undertaking of the accused that he would marry the girl, according to PTI news agency.
According to the complaint, the accused is a distant relative of the rape victim and he started stalking her in 2014-15 when she was about 16. She stated that one day he clandestinely entered the house and raped her. She alleged she was exploited several times and was afraid to disclose the incident to anyone.
She went on to state that the family of the accused had promised to marry him off to her when she turned 18 — the legal marriageable age for women in India — and got a declaration from her mother that the two were in a consensual physical relationship.
The complaint was lodged after the accused backtracked from his promise.