Continued from “Twist at Tees Hazari”
Chapter 5, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
With Paranjape’s plea for a trial in camera began the post-lunch proceedings in the Judge’s chambers. He averred that the witness was entailed to have her identity as well as her deposition kept by the court away from the public. After all, he said, on her own, the witness had come forward to help the cause of justice and thus serve the public interest. Besides, he alerted the court about the delicate nature of her testimony and the likely embarrassment the cross-examination could cause her. Having considered Paranjape’s pleas on merits and as Mehrotra had no precedents to quote against to poke his nose; Justice Sumitra began the hearing in her chambers. Though the trial commenced soon enough, that seemed an eternity to the accused.
When the stage was set for Paranjape to take the floor, he ordained the witness to remove her burka. While Mehrotra tried to size up the young woman who emerged from the veil, Paranjape tried to map the nuances of Suresh’s demeanor.
“Don’t you know who she is?” Paranjape asked Suresh.
“Objection Ms. Justice,” roared Mehrotra from his seat. “If she’s to further the prosecution, the indicted has a right to know who she is and not the other way round.”
“Ms. Justice,” said Paranjape spiritedly, “the interests of justice would suffer if the objection is sustained.”
“You may proceed,” said Justice Sumitra.
“Have you ever met her before?” Paranjape asked Suresh menacingly.
Having realized the import of her appearance, Suresh was flabbergasted beyond belief. Besides, he had no brief from Mehrotra either to tackle the ticklish tangle.
“Why not recall the road accident,” Paranjape seemed to prompt Suresh, “in which you nearly got killed?”
“Oh, God, what a turn,” blurted out Suresh in spite of himself.
“Now you may make your statement,” Paranjape triumphantly turned to the eager woman.
“I have a few questions for her,” said Mehrotra to Justice Sumitra.
“You may proceed.”
“What’s your name?” asked Mehrotra hoping to catch the witness off guard.
“Don’t I have the court’s permission to keep it for myself?”
“Well, where do you live?” Mehrotra asked the woman. “I hope you would part with that information at least.”
“It's in New Delhi.”
“How long have you been living here?”
“Maybe, since I was born.”
“When were you born?” asked Mehrotra and added turning to Paranjape. “Excuse me for wanting to know the age of your witness, a woman at that.”
“The question is irrelevant, Ms. Justice,” said Paranjape in objection.
“Objection sustained,” said Ms. Justice.
“How far away is your house from the Defense Colony?” resumed Mehrotra.
“It’s as far as from Saket.”
“Isn’t it possible that the indicted should’ve seen you in some mall or at the cinema in the recent past?”
“It’s quite possible.”
“Given your compelling beauty,” continued Mehrotra, “couldn’t he have retained your visage?”
“Objection, Ms. Justice!” said Paranjape. “She needn’t speculate about the proclivities of the accused.”
“Objection sustained,” ruled Justice Sumitra.
“That’s all, Ms. Justice,” Mehrotra made his bow.
“Bring the witness under oath,” the Judge ordered the daftari.
“I would tell the truth and nothing else but truth,” said the woman holding the Bhagvad Gita in her hand, “an untrammeled truth for an untainted justice.”
“You may depose before this court,” the Justice gave the green signal to the woman's damaging testimony.
“That evening, on 01 December 1974, I was walking by the pavement at Saket. When I sensed that a car came to a halt behind me, I instinctively turned back. He (she pointed her index finger at Suresh and found him colorless) yelled ‘Excuse Me’ from the driving seat. When I looked at him questioningly, he got down from a Mercedes and said he wanted my help in locating an address in the locality. Without a word he gave me a slip of paper with an illegibly scribbled address in a tiny handwriting. I stared at it long and hard to figure out the matter only to feel giddy and to be led by him into his car. It's clear that he would have smeared the note with some chloroform and the illegible writing in tiny letters was a ruse to make me take a closer look at it.
As he drove the car into the portico of a bungalow, I regained my consciousness but failed to gather my wits. I was still disoriented when he led me into a room and tried to disrobe me. The shock of it brought me back to my senses, and I resisted him all the way. Oh how, I pleaded with him to spare me since I was already engaged and that my wedding was round the corner. When he overpowered me at last, I begged him to leave me alone as I was having my periods then. But still he molested me bestially. As he savaged me like a brute, I ravaged him with my nails. When I cried shocked and shamed, he warned me not to report to the police.
“When he was driving me back to the city I realized we were in Mehrauli. As I sobbed all the way inconsolably, he began boasting about his exploits and foulmouthed women no end. Oh, how sickening it was to hear him say that while the poor husbands prop them up domestically, they let their lovers satiate their lust! After all, it was in the dubious nature of women to lead a double life. Being coy with her man, isn't woman eager to be vulgar with her lover? Why, aren't women ever ready for a lay with as many whatever it takes! What hypocrisy, being whorish in their lovers arms, women pretend to be boorish in their nuptial bed? Why, it was a time-tested female tactic to befool husbands by shrouding their amour from them.”
As reciting his callous talk left a bad taste in her mouth, she drank some water before recapping his further bluster thus— rape, my foot, isn't it sex by default? What a fuss as man but tends women to get laid! Bet if they are not on the lookout for one-night stands with all and sundry, day and night that is. And yet they feign indifference if courted! Why not, they want to be pushed into the act for them to give in with an air of injured innocence. If only man were to press on, asking him to spare them, won’t they crave for him at their core? Oh, how they push for the climax faking resistance! It was in a woman’s nature to sham shame, gloating over her good fortune of getting laid. Well, he was no fool to take them at their words. Why does he appear to be one? Privy to their proclivities, won’t he brush aside their pro-forma objections? Won't he give them what they crave all the while—sexy fare on the sly. Wiser to their false sense of outrage, he came to favor more of them as a service to the weaker sex.”
Listening to her, even as the judge and the lawyers, not to speak of Gautam, were dumbfounded, Suresh wished that mother earth had caved in underneath his feet.
“Oh how disgusted I was with that fiend then,” she continued after a pause, as though she herself needed time to digest what she herself had to reminisce for her testimony. “Involuntarily hating his very presence, nay existence, unmindful of my own safety, I pounced upon him. As he lost control at the wheel, the Mercedes collided with a roadside tree. When I regained consciousness, finding him unconscious, I got panicky. Slowly as I extricated myself from the wreckage, he began moaning feebly. What a relief it was! Why, his death would've compromised my own position further. Hiding at some distance, I had seen him come out of the car and manage a lift back to the city. Noting the registration number of his car, I too managed to hitchhike back to the city.”
All the while, Suresh could not desist himself from staring at her in admiration as the rest were too bowled over by her spirit to take their eyes off her.
“Reaching home, I tried to figure out my future,” she continued her tale of woes after having some more water. “My first impulse was to put all that behind me and get on with my life. But then, I realized that while I lived in guilt, he would be outraging many more. So, I decided not to push my shame under the carpet, but to make him accountable for his guilt.
I called up my fiancé and told him all. Even as he seethed with rage, I urged him to help me act against the rapist. All the same, as I cried in shame, he thought of advancing our marriage to minimize my trauma but seeing me determined to bring the guy to book, he applied his mind to the situation on hand. He felt it was possible that the culprit might have died of head injuries by then. In that case, had someone seen me with him, the police would be seeking her for questioning. Whatever, it would be an idea to clip my nails and preserve them along with my undergarments. Well, they would come in handy if it got messy on his account and to pin him down later on a different account that is if he were to survive.
Well, I wanted to report to the police forthwith but he counseled caution. He said the defense lawyers invariably give a coat of consensual sex to forcible molestations in their bid to blight the complainants. So he felt that before going to the police, we should make our case watertight against the worst cunning of the best of the defense lawyers even.”
Justice Sumitra couldn't resist herself from looking at Mehrotra whom she found gaping at the witness in all admiration.
“When we checked at the R. T. O’s Office, we realized that he survived the accident,’ the woman went on about her narration spiritedly, unmindful of the accused’s predicament. ‘When we were all set to report to the police, the Mehrauli Murder Case hit the headlines. Well, we followed the developments closely, and when it came for the trail, I came veiled to the court.
How it pained me to see what was on offer for the goddess of justice. As it became apparent that the decks are being cleared by the cunning defense for the criminal to walk free, I decided to alert the court about its consequences to the society at large. Ms. Justice, here is the incriminating material I mentioned in my deposition that I wish to submit in support of my averments. I pray to this honorable court to examine the evidentiary value of my deposition against the accused who is a habitual rapist. Ms. Justice may deem it fit that my case be taken up separately and direct the police to probe into my allegation.”
When she finished her testimony, Mehrotra, who had regained his wits by then, rose to cross-examine her.
“Who’s your fiancé?”
“His identity too is irrelevant to her testimony,” Paranjape intervened with renewed vigor. “I submit it may be left as her affair.”
“Granted,” ruled Justice Sumitra.
“Let me see the relevance of her evidence,” said Mehrotra superciliously to Paranjape before he went on pressing deviously on the witness. “You’ve stated that Mr. Suresh had an intercourse with you, didn’t you?”
“I said he raped me,” she corrected him.
“What’s a rape if it’s not an intercourse?”
“It might help,” she said nonchalantly, “if you check up with your dictionary. Rape is an intercourse with an unwilling woman qualified by force.”
“Oh, I see,” said Mehrotra unable to hide his admiration for her meticulous preparation.
“By the way,” said Mehrotra hoping to trick her, “are you a virgin?”
“Didn’t I state that he raped me?”
“But were you a virgin,” said Mehrotra menacingly, “when the accused allegedly raped you?”
“Yet you should’ve had some idea of lovemaking,” said Mehrotra without a let up, “say, from friends or through pornography.”
“Can you please tell this honorable court,” said Mehrotra unabashedly, “how your sexual union with the indicted did differ from what you had imagined it would be?”
“I was looking forward to the pleasure of penetration,” she replied as a matter of fact, “but the rape left me in pain and despair.”
“You being a virgin at the time of the alleged rape,” said Mehrotra, seeing a chink in her amour at last. “How would this honorable court know whether his force led to rape or your consent led to his force? After all, deflowering involves some force, does it not?”
“Objection,” roared Paranjape in disgust, “for this devious question.”
“Wish the defense draws its own lines,” said the Judge in indignation.
“Ms. Justice may please appreciate the validity of my question in the face of her accusation,” said Mehrotra unmoved. “Having alleged that my client had raped her, she spelt out her understanding of rape. Thus, it is imperative for the court to know whether the force allegedly used by Mr. Suresh Prabhu was meant to deflower her willing self.”
“You may proceed,” said Justice Sumitra helplessly.
“You said you were a virgin at the time of the alleged rape and it is a fact that force is an ingredient of defloration,” Mehrotra sounded persuasive. “Now enlighten this honorable court why the force you felt was not the part of a consensual deflowering.”
“The differing womanly responses differentiate the willing defloration and forced penetration,” she said to the relief of Paranjape who by then felt that his rival was wresting the initiative from him.
“What are those like?” pressed Mehrotra not wanting to give up without a fight.
“I presume the pain of defloration would make woman hug her man for her comfort,” she said with all conviction. “But the revulsion of rape would prompt her to hurt the beast to resist.”
“If the accused had indeed raped you, as you allege,” said Mehrotra, not the one to relent, “could you recall his manly attributes?”
“As I told you,” she said dismissively, “I was subjected to the trauma of rape. If it were a case of lovemaking, maybe, I would have satisfied your curiosity.”
“I appreciate your boldness,” said Mehrotra making ground for a future assault. “But did you experience the nuances of lovemaking later, that is, after the alleged rape?”
“Objection, Ms. Justice!” Paranjape could not control his indignation.
“Objection sustained,” ruled Justice Sumitra.
“It’s a matter of life and death for the accused, Ms. Justice,” said Mehrotra with all his persistence. “It is imperative that she should apply her mind and review whether the intercourse the accused allegedly had had with her was indeed rape or defloration in a moment of her own weakness.”
“You might reply,” motioned Justice Sumitra to the accuser.
“I didn’t have any sex either before or after he raped me,” she said animatedly. “And I suppose you cannot ask this honorable court to direct me to have sex now and revert on the matter later.”
“What if in repentance the accused had sought your hand in marriage?” said Mehrotra, bowled by her reply, but yet floating a trial balloon. “Were it possible that you would have seen it as an opportunity to redeem your lost honor?”
“I caution the defense not to stray from the path of defense,” said Justice Sumitra who was no more amused by Mehrotra’s tactics.
“No. Never!” replied the girl, all the same.
“Sorry for the transgression,” said Mehrotra in apology to Justice Sumitra, but pursued the matter as menacingly as ever.
“I allege that you had a one-night stand with the accused,” said Mehrotra to the woman, to the indignation of all, “that was for reasons best known to you. As your fiancé smelt a rat, you made it up as rape to pull the wool over his eyes. Once this trial commenced, you were constrained to impress him about your averred innocence. That is why you are going to lengths to condemn my client to save your skin.”
“I say it’s all rubbish!” said the woman losing her cool for once.
“Miss, mind your tongue,” said Ms. Justice to the witness.
“I do apologize, Ms, Justice,” said the witness.
“Now you may answer my question,” said Mehrotra.
“You would know that Dostoyevsky said logic is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways,” she said rather aggressively. “By the same logic does it not seem you have been going to lengths to make his rape look like my invitation to mate?”
“Isn’t the accused young, handsome and wealthy?” was another Mehrotra poser to the defiant girl. “Won’t that make him an eligible bachelor otherwise? I’m sure you cannot dismiss that as rubbish.”
“Well, it’s possible.”
“Were it possible for some scheming girl to induce him into sex to blackmail him into marriage?”
“Speaking for myself,” she said, “I had no such idea.”
“I allege that you resorted to the very same tactic,” said Mehrotra with such finality that would have veered the vacillating towards him. “Since you failed to force him into your wedlock then, now you want to see him led to the gallows.”
“That way, you can hypothesize anything and everything, can’t you?” she said exposing Mehrotra’s faux pas. “But, if it were the case, why could he not even recall who I am?”
“What if he had paid sex with you?” Mehrotra continued recovering from his unusual error. “I allege that you, knowing the value of your client, preserved the proofs of that coitus for future exploitation. As the Mehrauli Murder Case made the headlines, you began boasting to your clientele that the accused slept with you. With the word of mouth, it reached the men behind Shanti’s murder and they made a deal with you to implicate my client. I tell you that you are acting at the behest of the real perpetrators of the crime in the guise of aiding justice.”
“Didn’t we see all this coming?” said the woman spiritedly. “The day after the incident, I moved as a paying guest with an elderly couple whose credentials even you might not question. If summoned, they would testify to the fact that I received none at home, except my fiancé, that too in their presence. They would vouch that I never left home once ever since. For the first time, I came out straight here, that too with that old man in tow.”
“Well, that still does not disprove it was not a consensual sex after all,” said Mehrotra shifting the burden of proof on the witness.
“You can get a measure of my consent from the entries in the relevant diary,” she said, pulling out ten neatly bound diaries from her handbag. “I’ve been maintaining a dairy for ten years now.”
As Mehrotra responded in wonderment, she showed him the blank space against 01 December 1974 and the entry of the next day that she asked him to read aloud.
'Oh, God how could this happen to me?' read Mehrotra hoping to find a loophole still. 'What an accursed day yesterday had been. How can I ever forget my shame in spite of ‘his’ understanding? How have I been dreaming a love drive on the highway of sensuality? What a cruel fate that ordained a head-on collision with a rapist’s lust! How was I fantasizing the ecstasies of lovemaking when the hammer of lust shattered my soul? May God bless me to forget that beastly experience, that’s all I ask for in life.’
“No more questions,” said Mehrotra seemingly resigning after scanning a few more entries.
“Have you got anything to say?” Justice Sumitra asked Suresh.
“I shamed her then and I feel ashamed now,” said Suresh with all remorse. “And it’s also true that I kidnapped, raped and killed Shanti.”
“I request the learned judge to adjourn the proceedings,” submitted Mehrotra, the ‘never say die’ lawyer. “It is clear that the accused is upset about a past misdemeanor not related to the present accusation. It's his guilt complex in this case, that's conjuring up his guilt in the case on trial as well.”
“The trial is adjourned,” said Justice Sumitra as Gautam was aghast and Mehrotra remained clueless for once.
Continued to “Dilemma of Qualms”