More than 5,200 people had signed a petition on Wednesday demanding Indian Supreme Court Judge Sharad Arvind Bobde resign after he recently suggested that an accused rapist marry his schoolgirl victim to avoid jail time.
“If you want to marry (her), we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail,” Bobde told an Indian government technician at a court hearing on March 1.
Judge Bobde made the suggestion to a man who petitioned against arrest after being “accused of stalking, tying up, gagging, repeatedly raping a minor school-going girl, and threatening to douse her in petrol and set her alight, to hurl acid at her, and to have her brother killed,” according to the Hindu. The alleged crimes reportedly drove the minor victim to attempt suicide.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) Bobde’s remarks on Monday were met with indignation by a coalition of womens’ rights groups in India, who started a petition calling for his resignation this week.
“By suggesting that this rapist marry the victim-survivor, you, the Chief Justice of India, sought to condemn the victim-survivor to a lifetime of rape at the hands of the tormentor who drove her to attempt suicide,” a letter included in the petition read.
“From the towering heights of the post of CJI of the Supreme Court, it sends the message to other courts, judges, police, and all other law enforcing agencies that justice is not a constitutional right of women in India,” the letter further read.
“This will only lead to the further silencing of girls and women. To the rapists, it sends the message that marriage is a license to rape; and that by obtaining such a license, the rapist can post facto decriminalize or legalize his act,” the letter’s authors added.
Nearly 50 Indian women’s rights groups signed the letter, including the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the National Federation of Indian Women, and India’s Forum Against Oppression of Women.
Indian courts hearing sexual assault cases often propose so-called compromise solutions which encourage accused sexual abusers to marry their alleged victims. Judge Bobde during a separate court hearing on March 1 reportedly questioned if non-consensual sex between a married couple could be considered rape.
“The husband may be a brutal man, but can you call the act of sexual intercourse between a lawfully wedded man and wife as rape?” Bobde asked.
India is one of the 36 countries in the world where marital rape has not been criminalized. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that “sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”
This follows a series of rapes in India over the past year, including a woman allegedly raped while on an ICU ventilator, a 6 year old girl who died after being allegedly raped by her cousin, and a 19 year old woman whose gang rape and death sparked protests due to police reportedly improperly disposing of her body against her family’s wishes.