By Nivedita Menon,
Fashion designer Anand Jon has been sentenced by a Los Angeles court to 59 years in prison for violent sexual assault on seven young women, some of them under-age. His defence tried to move for a mistrial on the grounds that one of the jurors had contacted Jon’s sister during the trial, but a new trial was not granted by the judge. The concerned juror delivered a “guilty” verdict along with the other 11 jurors in the case.
A month ago, his sister Sanjana had pleaded with the Indian government to extradite him as he would not get a fair trial in the US, being Indian. She claimed then, and did so again after the verdict on September 1, that Jon is a victim of racist discrimination.
Would Anand Jon have been acquitted of such charges in an Indian court? Almost certainly, yes. In a justice system in which alleged rapists are routinely acquitted for “lack of evidence” and proven rapists given a reduced sentence because of their youth and the promising life ahead of them, Sanjana is right to insist that he be tried in an Indian court. In an Indian court, the testimony of women who had willingly gone to his home on the promise of jobs in the fashion business, and then claimed they were raped, would be dismissed out of hand. Especially if the women are white. Gratuitous references to “western women” and their supposed attitudes to sex, pepper judgements and statements by officials on rape in India.
A 1983 judgement of the Gujarat High Court, “progressive” in the sense that it held that corroborative evidence for a charge of rape was not necessary, based itself on the argument that Indian society, unlike the permissive West, is tradition-bound, and therefore a woman was unlikely to make a false accusation of rape as she would “be reluctant to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity” had occurred. Western women, of course, are more than capable of such things. As EK Nayanar, Chief Minister of Kerala at the time, said during a furore over the rape of female tourists, there is no need to make such a fuss, rape in the US is as common as drinking a cup of tea. So yes, Anand Jon would have emerged as the wronged victim in an Indian court among white women claiming rape.
Oh, by the way, the Gujarat High Court judgement went on to say: “Corroboration may be insisted upon when a woman having attained majority is found in a compromising position and there is likelihood of her having levelled such an accusation on account of the instinct of self-preservation.” In other words, if the tradition-bound society of India would make “innocent” women reluctant to level false accusations of rape, it would at the same time motivate “promiscuous” women to hide their lack of virtue precisely through such accusations. So whose innocence or guilt is on trial here? Certainly not the alleged rapist’s.
Over ten years later, Bhanwari Devi still awaits the hearing of her appeal against the acquittal of her upper caste rapists, in the Rajasthan High Court (which appropriately enough has a statue of Manu installed in the premises).
When a woman army officer accused three officers of her unit of sexually harassing her and physically confining her for refusing their advances, a General Court Martial was held. On her. She was then sacked for levelling false accusations against her fellow officers. Her legal counsel holds that her own charges were never investigated, and were pushed under the carpet.
A rape convict cleared the civil service exam while serving his sentence, and was deemed by the Delhi High Court to have “redeemed himself in jail”, his incarceration of five years having met “the ends of justice”. His victim, who committed suicide, is beyond justice or redemption. While tutoring her in Chemistry, her suicide note said, he drugged her, had sex with her and later blackmailed her into continuing to have sex with him, promising her that they would soon get married. He then tried to make her have sex with a third person from whom he wanted a a favour. At this, she committed suicide. However, the news report says, “The High Court found no evidence to substantiate this allegation (in the suicide note) that the woman actually had sex with a third person”. So his conviction under Section 306 (abetment to suicide) has been set aside, and he is deemed to have served his sentence for “obtaining sex on the false promise of marriage”, which constitutes rape in our legal system. So look out for the bright young officer Ashok Rai “alias Amit” – the skills he showed as a mere tutor will be multiplied with the power that comes with being a sarkari afsar. The fact that he “cracked” the “tough civils”, makes our judiciary look indulgently upon his boyish pranks – drugging, raping and pimping. He is now well equipped to take up the reins of the country’s administration.
In August last year, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to commute the death sentence of a rapist who killed two women, to life imprisonment. The man had hacked to death the woman who attempted to resist her rape as well as her grandmother, who came to her rescue. The crime, declared both courts, does not fall into the category of ‘rarest of rare’ because the murders were not pre-meditated, but committed ‘in a fit of passion.’ The pre-meditated crime was only that of rape, after all, which any red-blooded man might engage in at some point in his life. Resistance would naturally meet with a violent response, as any woman should know. If you are killed while resisting rape (silly girl!), it is hardly a rare enough circumstance to warrant the severest punishment.
(I am opposed to the death penalty, by the way. The point is that in opposition to the growing anti-death penalty movement, judicial opinion in India holds the death penalty to be necessary, albeit in the ‘rarest of rare cases.’ So when a death sentence is awarded, the crime in that case is being understood as heinous enough to deserve the maximum punishment. Conversely, when it is either not awarded or a previous sentence of death is commuted to life imprisonment; or if a sentence of life imprisonment is reduced to a few years, the assessment is that the crime is a lesser one. Rape is clearly, one of the most laughable of crimes, when seen in this framework.)
Is there a racist bias against Anand Jon in the US? Quite possibly. There have been racist references in public discourse. Nevertheless, has he had a fair trial? It seems so. The juror improperly trying to make contact with Jon’s sister is a technicality that has no bearing on the evidence, which is overwhelming.
Is the sentence inordinately heavy? No. In 2003, Andrew Luster, heir to the Max Factor fortune, was given 124 years for drug-induced date rape. The American Supreme Court refused to overturn this ruling.
No wonder Anand Jon wants to come back to his native land. Much better climate for rapists.
This article was first published on Kafila.org