We are pleased to bring you an excerpt from Tripti Sharan’s Chronicles of a Gynaecologist, a book written from the viewpoint of a gynaecologist who says she doesn’t see ‘patients’, but ’emotions’. This book shares her fascinating experiences while she interacts with women at their most vulnerable moments in the labour room. It includes everything from surreal incidents at the hospital, like a new-born baby being strangled by her relatives because of her gender, to being mistaken as a sex therapist by annoying gentlemen at parties.
This particular excerpt is the first chapter of the book, which focuses on Sharan’s association with a 22-year-old woman who was raped by two men, and her awful experience with sexist lawyers while providing testimony at the court hearing.
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The Rape Victim – My Tryst with Justice
“Eyes that forgot to see, Eyes that forgot to weep; They never smiled,
They never lived,
Yet they follow me…”
The streets of the city wore a deserted look. Heat was the new Taliban forcing women to wear a hijab. It was a common sight to see girls riding a two-wheeler, draping their chunni in such a way that only their eyes were visible. The wiser ones preferred to stay indoors, but the lesser fortunate ones, like a doctor on duty, didn’t have much choice. Braving the heat, I entered the premises of the hospital, and was immediately welcomed by a gush of cool air. Almost all the buildings in the city carried the legacy of the royal family of Gwalior. The Kamla Raja Hospital, meant for only women and children, was literally our residence, as true to its meaning, our residency days hardly left time for anywhere else. However, now in the final year of post-graduation, we had become quite accustomed to our weird lives.
As I entered the casualty ward, I saw a policeman waiting inside. He looked relieved to see me. We were quite familiar with these policemen and, at times, I felt that their job was as tough as ours, if not tougher. Like us, they had difficult working conditions and graveyard shifts. Add to it, they were always in the public eye; the public that was forever in desperate situations and quick to judge.
They often brought those involved in police cases to the hospital for medical check-ups. We were wary of them. Not that we didn’t sympathise, but doing such cases (we called them medicolegal cases) meant leaving our routine work. Add to it, loads of clerical work and getting caught in legal procedures or logjam. So we ended up giving these policemen our most unwelcome smile. Well, that never stopped them! I noticed that the policeman was holding out a paper in his hand. With slight trepidation I took it from him. It was a summon from the court for a rape case in which the victim was brought to us for medical check-up a year back. Her name did not ring any bell. How was one supposed to remember a case done so long back? Unfortunately, that’s the pace at which the judiciary moves in our country.
Many of my seniors had told me about their courtroom experiences. The doctor was a neutral witness. The courts were generally courteous and helpful. Sometimes it did get dangerous when influential people were involved, but generally it went off smoothly. This was my first summon and I could feel a tinge of excitement creeping in. The court hearing was a week later, so I had time to check the case from the records. As I browsed through the papers, a woman with frozen eyes entered my mind. I could vividly recall the fear lurking in her eyes – how they stared but saw nothing. It took me back all those months to that fateful day…
There was a persistent knock at the door and I could see a policewoman peering through the partially closed door, ‘Ma’am! Please see this woman. She is in a lot of distress.’
We had a love-hate relationship with the police.
‘Sudha Rani, you always say that. Just because you want to get free quickly, it doesn’t mean that I leave everything and come rushing at your command.’ I was a little wary and made no bones about it. She still persisted. It was unlike her, as she usually left the
‘cases’ she brought in the casualty, and went on to do her errands. I was neither keen nor easily impressed as I had lately seen many fabricated cases, and they wasted a lot of our time.
However, as I glanced, I saw a small, thin, and dark woman, wearing a torn saree and some ugly bruises on her face, quietly perched in the corner. I called her but she didn’t respond. The policewoman gave her a gentle shove and she walked inside towards me.
As she drew nearer, I could easily see the stains of dried tears on her cheeks. She was walking with difficulty.
I asked her, ‘Do you know that this examination can go against you? Would you still want to go ahead with it?’
She kept quiet. I was in a hurry and was getting a little irritated, too. I had to take her consent before proceeding.
Sudha Rani came to my rescue, ‘Haan bol de, beta.’ (‘Say yes, child.’)
She simply stared at me blankly. I took out the papers and, prompted by the policewoman, she wordlessly gave her thumb impression.
Sudha Rani said, ‘Madamji, unmarried larki hai (she is an unmarried girl). She’s been raped by two men!’
I winced. After bearing the trauma of rape, she now had to go through the medical check-ups.
Something about her whole demeanour was making me uncomfortable and, against my better judgement of not ever being personal, I asked her, ‘What happened?’
She raised her eyes once again but said nothing.
Sudha Rani interrupted, ‘Madam, ye kuch nahi bolegi. Aap complaint padh lo.’ (‘Madam, she will not say anything. You read the complaint filed by her.’)
I took out the report and quickly went through it. This 22-year-old woman was on her way back home when she was attacked by two men. They were from the neighbouring village. She was raped by them and later dumped near a road. A passer- by noticed her and took her to a police station. It was indeed horrifying. However, more than the crime, it was the language of the complaint filed by her that disgusted me. It was written in crude Hindi and sounded almost vulgar. I accepted that a majority of our population could still not understand English, but just going through the statement made my hair stand on end. I shivered as I tried to imagine a woman writing it, especially before the notorious policemen. How demeaning to have it read in front of her family! Was there no other way to make it less humiliating?
‘Why do you people make them write in such a vulgar language?’ I vented it out all on poor Sudha Rani.
She shrugged, ‘Kya karen? Aur kaise likhenge? Zurm bhi to bahut vulgar hai na.’ (‘What to do? How else to write? The crime is also extremely vulgar.’)
The two accused had also been sent for a medical examination. It didn’t make me feel any better.
Her torn clothes and the signs of injury on her body were testimony to her plight. Painful blisters and bruises had already started forming. It was difficult to make her lie down. The fear in her eyes spoke volumes, and only after a lot of coaxing could she lie down for an examination. There were a lot of injury marks on her private parts, too. Probing further, I was surprised to notice that she was still a virgin! Medically, an intact hymen did not rule out sexual interference, nor a torn hymen proved previous sexual intercourse. Not deliberating much, I simply noted it down and completed the rest of the examination. Her clothes were sealed and sent for forensic examination along with the vaginal swabs and slides. Once finished, she was free to go. A tired-looking, dhoti-clad man waited outside, probably her father. He folded his hands in gratitude and soon they were out of the hospital…
A cry from the adjoining labour room jolted me back to the present. Maybe she had let go of her fears and learned to smile again.
The week passed quickly and soon came the day for the first attendance in the court. I was getting a little apprehensive but I pushed away my nagging doubts. I didn’t want to dampen my enthusiasm.
The district court was buzzing with activity. Everywhere, there were harassed-looking people scuttling behind their lawyers, carrying a trail of overloaded files, or should I say ‘justice’, in their hands. I was used to seeing handcuffed patients in the hospital too, but they still made me curious. Many could easily pass off as one of our poor workers; not quite like the villains we see in the movies. I often wondered if indeed there was a Prem Chopra scheming inside them, or were they like the angry young man Amitabh Bachchan, wrongly accused and suffering silently? Maybe this came from watching too many movies!
My uncle had accompanied me, and he directed me to the courtroom. The large hall was precariously bare. Broken benches and shabby interiors graced a hall that had probably seen better days. A large, ancient-looking fan making rude noises attracted my attention. I smiled… I had seen one such fan in my grandfather’s house. The imposing fan, despite its size and loud noise, appeared to be under a lot of strain and moved slowly. Just like the judiciary of our country! The dirty walls, the tattered doors and windows, and the subdued yellow lights were probably a testimony to so many courtroom dramas. The images of the impressive courtrooms that had lingered so long in my mind, bid a silent adieu. Definitely not an Insaf ka Tarazu (Scales of Justice) kind of filmy scene. The only similarity was the lady with her eyes covered, holding the tarazu (scales) in her hand. Unfazed and unperturbed she stood there, for she didn’t really see anything.
There were a few people sitting on the benches, waiting for their turn. All of us had been given serial numbers. Mine was the first, and I had been given a file containing the medical report of the victim. Now, only the judge needed to arrive.
I looked around, hoping to see the woman, and saw a vaguely familiar dhoti-clad man standing next to a lawyer. He saw me looking at him and gave me a hesitant smile. I made my way towards them. He folded his hands and looked at me gently.
The lawyer bowed slightly and said, ‘I am her lawyer. He is my client’s father.’
‘How is she?’ I could hardly stop myself.
‘She’s no more.’
The father looked at me with moist eyes. I was shocked, gripped by an acute sense of loss.
‘She had grown very depressed in the weeks that followed and had lost interest in everything. She was not eating much, either. The repeated visits to the police station and the court took its toll. One day, she fell ill with high grade fever. We thought it was a normal fever, but it turned out to be brain fever. Despite our best efforts, she could not be saved. Now my only wish is to punish those responsible for her death.’ His small frame shook with silent grief.
The lawyer was very quiet.With the victim no more, had he lost steam?
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity and another lawyer, surrounded by a group of people, entered the courtroom. He appeared restless and was moving his hands frantically as he spoke. There were two men wearing dirty clothes trailing him. I presumed them to be the accused. The lawyer was patting and reassuring them. He looked around before sitting down on a bench a few rows ahead of me. The group appeared to be engrossed in a heated discussion interrupted by occasional grunts from the lawyer. Suddenly, he got up looking at his watch and noticed me sitting a few yards away. He glanced at me insolently. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.
‘The doctorni?’ He laughed sarcastically and patted the man next to him, speaking a bit too loudly, probably for my benefit.
I disliked him immediately. His whole attitude exuded arrogance. One expects to see the best behaviour and discipline in the room of Your Honour!
I was spared further glances as the judge arrived, and soon the room fell into some kind of order. The judge took his place. Someone sat beside the judge, in front of the typewriter. On being called, I moved into the area which I believe was the witness box. It was in the centre, just in front of the judge. Immediately, I was surrounded by people. Even the accused stood there, peering at me. The judge, being at a higher level, could still watch me. This was not how my first court appearance should have been, but I still tried to maintain my composure. I touched the holy book Gita, as if drawing some strength from it.
‘You can start.’ The judge asked me to read out my report. Feeling a bit confident, I started. Immediately, I was interrupted by the defence lawyer, ‘Madamji, in Hindi!’
I fumbled, but realized that it was a norm and started again, this time in Hindi. As I spoke, a typewriter recorded every word I uttered. I managed to get through the complains and the gynaecological history. I chose to ignore the occasional scoffing sounds. However, my mask of bravery threatened to slip when it came to reading the examination part.
The line ‘secondary sexual characters and her pubic and axillary hair well developed’ swam in front of me. How do I describe her anatomy, her sexuality, in Hindi? I felt like kicking myself for writing such details. My self-reproach didn’t make me feel any better, and I looked at the judge, silently appealing. He nodded, much to the displeasure of the defence lawyer. Relieved, I went on using medical terms in English to describe the injury marks on her body and genital areas. As I moved further to her internal check-up, I mentioned her virginal status to the court a little hesitatingly. I silently cursed myself for being so brutally honest.
The defence lawyer jumped at that. ‘Hold it, madam. You said the hymen is intact?’ I nodded.
‘But she has been raped by two men!’ He flung his arms all around, as if expecting approval from everyone. ‘How can it be so, if she has been raped?’ he asked sarcastically. He persisted in using chaste Hindi, maybe just to intimidate me.
I was now nervous. Pitted against a lawyer who wanted to win at any cost, I wished I could look squarely at his face and ask him to go to hell.
However, pulling myself together, I managed to say, ‘According to the definition, it is not something necessary to constitute rape.’
He jumped at that. ‘Madam, leave aside definitions. This is not a classroom. Seedhi, sachi bhasha mein batao. Agar rape hoga, toh hymen rupture hoga ki nahi?’ (‘Tell me in a simple language. If there has been a rape, will the hymen rupture or not?’)
I was getting flustered, but still managed to insist, ‘The mere touching of inner parts by the male organ can constitute rape.’
He was getting agitated, ‘OK, yeh batao mujhe – agar koi do aadmi zabardasti apna male organ kisi female organ ke andar dale, will the hymen remain intact? (OK, tell me this – if two men forcibly insert their male organ into a female organ, will the hymen remain intact?) Yes or no?’
Horrified by his audacity, and the crude Hindi he used, I staggered. A sea of unsympathetic faces loomed around me. I looked at the judge and the other lawyer in silent appeal.
My voice trailed off as he interrupted my last effort almost ferociously, ‘Madam, legal-wegal aap hum pe choro.’ (‘Madam, leave the legalities to us.’) He repeated the whole offensive statement once again in Hindi, emphasizing every word with sadistic pleasure. ‘Yes or no?’
I fumbled. My courage was slowly deserting me. This was turning into a nightmare.
He again shouted, ‘Yes or no?’
I literally jumped and said, ‘Yes.’
Even before I had finished, the typist had marked ‘yes’ on the papers. Something inside me broke. I started again, ‘But, sir …’
The lawyer had already turned towards the judge. Wearing a broad smile, he said, ‘I don’t need to ask anything else, Your Honour. Your turn…’ He turned towards the victim’s lawyer.
The lawyer, who seemed to have already accepted his defeat, said, ‘I don’t want to ask her anything, Your Honour.’
The judge thanked me and asked me to leave. The crowd burst into applause. Nobody could see a young female doctor reeling in shock there. I couldn’t get past my sense of failure; so powerful that it was killing me. I still marvel at how I didn’t break into tears.
Moving past the crowd, I saw the victim’s father standing in a corner, his hands still folded. Eyes brimming with anguish, I looked at him. He was the only person who understood the plea in my unshed tears. Now I could live the fear, the loss of life, in those haunting eyes. If those few minutes spent there were so traumatic, how had she survived the whole ordeal? No wonder she was broken. However, with it, the realization hit home that, today, she had lost because of me. How could I ever respect myself? If only I had not succumbed so easily! My regret was soon getting replaced by an intense anger. Is this how justice was delivered in this country? Wasn’t being raped once, not enough? Was rape of the soul not as important as that of the body? How could those, who delivered justice, be so unjust?
I turned back. I had to see the judge once again. Suddenly, I felt my arms being seized. My uncle, who was sitting in one of the back rows and, thankfully, had not heard much of the trial, held me back.
‘Please! I want to talk to the judge. I have to explain to him.’ He laughed at my naivety.
‘The judge is already on his next case. It is neither proper, nor does it make much sense, talking to him now. Forget the case!’ he gently advised me.
I was still fuming, but as I walked outside the premises, I accepted the futility of my action. The judgement had been delivered, even though justice had been denied. Truth had been proven wrong; a lie had survived and won. I had to live with that on my conscience. My trauma in the court didn’t have any name. Yet, my weak disposition would haunt me forever. Maybe one day, I would be able to face the accusation in her eyes. Maybe, one day I would plead guilty in front of a pair of eyes which had stopped living but followed me forever…
Excerpted from Chronicles of a Gynaecologist by Tripti Sharan, published by Bloomsbury in India, 2016, Rs. 245.
Tripti Sharan is a gynaecologist, obstetrician, writer and social worker . She is a senior consultant at BLK Super Speciality Hospital in Rajinder Nagar, New Delhi. Last year, she co-published an anthology of poetry called The Deewdrops, a journey begins… and is currently working on another book about her life as a medical student.