By Ila Ananya
“Her dress sense was objected (to) by the accused. She used to party at home and (has) also taken inappropriate photographs of herself in 2005, and she has also taken nude photographs when her husband was not at home and the accused was not happy with her behaviour.”
It’s hard to believe that these are lines from the recent Bangalore District Court’s verdict on the case against former French diplomat Pascal Mazurier, accused of child sexual abuse. Suja Jones (the ‘she’ referred to above) was not the accused. She had filed the case against Mazurier, her husband, in June 2012 for sexually abusing their daughter. She said the abuse went on for two years, from when her daughter was one-and-a-half years old.
But after a five-year court trial, Mazurier was acquitted last week in an extremely problematic and shocking verdict that evidently focused on Jones’ personal life more than the accused.
The case was heard by Judge BS Rekha, who said that Jones had used her daughter as a “weapon” to make Mazurier a scapegoat, to stop him from leaving India. Apart from insinuating that the child hadn’t been abused at all, and that it was a urinary infection that had caused the pain, the verdict brought up unnecessary details about Jones’ life. As is often the problem with court judgments on cases of sexual abuse, nobody paused to wonder why any of the moral judgment was necessary.
Even if you skim through the 36-page verdict, what will immediately jump out at you are the long recurring diversions about how Jones went to clubs in France and Bangalore with male friends, spent a lot of money, and how unhappy Mazurier was with the clothes she wore. Some paragraphs are even dedicated to questioning Jones about the nude photographs she took of herself (and one with her friend), ending nonchalantly with, “This shows that this complainant is in the habit of leading her life by spending her time in parties.”
Since the court thought it necessary to make these extensive detours, it would only be fair to assume that the same discussion would take place about Mazurier as well. But it’s shocking how little the court goes into this — there’s nothing in the verdict except for cursory references to the countries he was posted in, and sympathetically, his “problems” with Jones.
Instead, the judge thought it important to note, that “if at all she (Jones) is being a dutiful mother, she ought not to have left the home by leaving the responsibility on her husband for shopping”.
Referring to Jones as a “bad mother” is only the most convenient way to push women into either of the all-too-familiar “good character-bad character” binary. Anybody’s immediate reaction to all these unwanted questions should have been that it was none of their business, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that a child was abused for two years.
Unsurprisingly, the logic in the district court’s verdict on sexual violence, especially against a girl of “such tender age” (as the court notes), is itself downright absurd. Its reasons for suspecting Jones of filing a false case included that she and Mazurier had sex, and that he hadn’t even “misbehaved with the house maid”. The judge said, “It is undisputed that the accused and the complainant were having regular sexual intercourse. Then what was the necessity for the accused to have sexually abused his own child (sic)?”
If this clueless idea were true, we wouldn’t have half the number of cases of sexual assault in courts today.
Jones is determined to challenge what she calls a “shocking and disappointing” verdict in the Karnataka High Court. She says her daughter, who was coming out of her trauma with the help of therapy over the last five years, is now terrified of being abused again. In the last five years, Jones has had to deal with botched DNA tests, her phone being tapped, and the Child Welfare Committee questioning her, because the French Consulate (not knowing what was going on) complained that she was neglecting her children. As Jones says, “(It’s) One thing for the system to want to prove the accused is innocent, but it’s another thing for the system to go so far as wanting to prove the child’s mother is the accused.”
The sexist verdict reminds us of how survivors of assault are often blamed for being abused — except this time, Jones, as the minor girl’s mother, has been pushed into the deep end. According to both Jones and her lawyer BT Venkatesh, the defence did accept assault during the proceedings, before they changed their position. (Several attempts to speak to Mazurier’s lawyer advocate Mahesh about the case were unsuccessful).
Five years ago, when Jones first filed the case, the media had done the same thing the court did last week. They analysed Jones’ relationship with her husband down to the last detail, while also playing up the X-factor, focusing on a mysterious Mr X who they claimed was Jones’ lover and the “real” perpetrator of the abuse. As Jones points out, it came up because Mazurier had filed a police complaint against this supposed Mr X when he was released on bail. The case was subsequently closed because there were no suspects.
In 2015, Mazurier was roped into being a part of a Father’s Day event that demanded the “rights of the father” and celebrated “fatherhood”. It had been organised by the Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting and Save Indian Family Foundation, and Mazurier came wearing a T-shirt bearing the words, ‘Papa Loves You’. For unbelievable reasons, it seems like the courts love papa too.
Co-published with Firstpost.