Tarun Tejpal Verdict: Do Women Have To ‘Show’ Trauma To Be Believed?

Tarun Tejpal Verdict: Do Women Have To ‘Show’ Trauma To Be Believed? Tarun Tejpal, the former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, was acquitted in a sexual assault case by a Goa court. (Photo Credit: PTI)

A screenshot of an Instagram story recently doing the rounds of the internet had a photo of a woman, wearing an oxygen mask connected to a concentrator, making rotis in a kitchen. The accompanying text celebrated how a ‘mother is never off her duty’. While several people questioned what the said woman’s duty was to not die without making sure her family got fresh phulkas? the kind of saccharine adulation the post mostly received was a reminder that the society expects an absurd performance of sacrifice and devastation for a woman to be considered ‘normal’. 

You would expect such sentiments to make the rounds of WhatsApp and die a natural death in the grumbles of misogynists lamenting the extinction of ‘womanhood,’ but expecting a woman to behave like a stick figure from a sexist Indian film is a contagion that has not left India’s mostly venerable institutions untouched. 

A man just muttered lines of a creepy song to a girl passing by. What? Are you saying that’s not romantic? 

A mother decided to have a job and a life? What? Is she still a mother? 

A divorced woman chose not to hide inside the bathroom all her life. What? Is she a sociopath?

A survivor of sexual assault decided to walk around on her own limbs and eat food and maybe breathe? What? Is she a real human woman and if she is, has she even been assaulted?

A survivor of sexual assault decided to walk around on her own limbs and eat food and maybe breathe? What? Is she a real human woman and if she is, has she even been assaulted?

Additional sessions judge Kshama Joshi, in her 527-page judgment on the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case, observed, “It is extremely revealing that the prosecutrix’s (victim) account neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that a prosecutrix of sexual assault on consecutive two nights might plausibly show nor does it show any such behaviour on the part of the accused.”

The narrative around sexual assault and harassment only began to change when women chose to relive their trauma in public, over and over again, to establish that response to violence doesn’t follow the fatuous template foisted upon us by an ignorant, parochial majority.  A template built and created by people who’ve not lived in bodies that have secretly and anxiously nursed the wounds of assault for years. It’s just numbing when even after hundreds of women chose to dig deep into their wounds and narrate their stories to make the justice delivery mechanisms a little more fair, a little less violating, we are still holding on to caricatures of assault as benchmarks. 

It’s just numbing when even after hundreds of women chose to dig deep into their wounds and narrate their stories to make the justice delivery mechanisms a little more fair, a little less violating, we are still holding on to caricatures of assault as benchmarks. 

I do not use the word ‘caricature’ lightly. In 2017, the Delhi High Court overturned the conviction of Mahmood Farooqui and in its verdict said ‘a feeble no’ could signal consent. Earlier this year, the Bombay High Court overturned the conviction of a 39-year-old man in a case of assault by getting into the semantics of the word ‘sexual assault’. The female judge ruled that the man, who had groped the chest of a 13-year-old, was not guilty of ‘sexual assault’ because he did not remover her clothes. In 2016, the Supreme Court labelled a rape case filed by a woman false and questioned why she did not scream when she was being gangraped in an auto in Bengaluru. 

The need for a visual of a woman as a dehumanised mass of flesh, to be convinced she has been assaulted, is as violent as assault itself. It tries to deny that there is dignity in fighting back.

I am not going to relive my trauma, or that of women I know, once over again, to argue that assault doesn’t have to play out like your favourite Bollywood blockbuster. If you expect real trauma to look like that, it’s time to reset your humanity. 

If you expect real trauma to look like that, it’s time to reset your humanity. 

Piyasree Dasgupta is an independent journalist based in Kolkata. She was the Features Editor at HuffPost India, writing on the modern Indian woman. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.

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