Between now and 23rd May, through the True Justice Heals campaign, CSJ seeks to raise $25000 or INR 17 Lakh. Help us bring healing to survivors of sexual abuse, and to children who have caused harm and now want to make amends. Donate now through our website or to our campaign on Ketto.
When 14 year-old Juhi* left her home on a winter morning to buy milk from her neighbourhood grocer, she was a happy teenager going about her life. Soon after she left home, Juhi was abducted by two strangers and taken away to an unknown place. She was confined to a room and gang-raped for more than a week. Following this, she was shot and thrown into a well. Juhi survived and was rescued when passersby heard her cries.
While the legal process for the case began at the time of the incident itself, it took more than two years for her testimony, the first part of the trial process, to be completed. When CSJ started working with Juhi, we realized that there were inconsistencies in her initial statement recorded with the magistrate which was taken while she was still in a critical medical condition. Due to improper handling of the case, and due to her fragile health when her initial statement was recorded, the case did not begin on a strong note. After several months of helping Juhi remember the details of the case accurately, and helping her piece it back, slowly and painfully, the process of her testimony was successfully completed three years after the abuse happened. As a result, she was finally able to relate a complete and honest account of the horrific violence that she had survived.
The process of rendering a testimony is the most crucial part of a sexual abuse case. It is on this testimony, or truth, that the entire case is based and fought. It is also one of the most emotionally and psychologically jarring processes in the duration of the case. Divided into a two-part process of a ‘chief examination’ and a ‘cross examination’, it can be truly overwhelming for a child to cope with. During the chief examination, the child relays the facts of the case, while in the cross examination the child must answer questions put up by the defence counsel. Even though child victims of sexual abuse in Delhi courts testify through an audio-visual interface, and have the assistance of a support person, the process forces them to recollect the unpleasant facts of the incident over and over. During the cross examination it is doubly difficult for a child as he/she must stand their ground in sticking to the facts stated initially. Given the frequency of adjournments in the Indian justice system, the process may sometimes take place years after initial reporting, as in Juhi’s case. Anything that the child says during this process can be potentially used against him/ her.
For a child to be able to speak the truth about the sexual abuse he/she survived, and for his/her truth to be heard is one step closer to healing. The trauma, pain and suffering of children who have been sexually abused is unimaginable. Yet, the hope, and resilience they show in the face of these circumstances is testimony to their strength and ability to heal. While the abuse cannot be undone, and the psycho-social harm inflicted on the child often takes years to cope with, facilitating a safe space for a child where his/her truth can be heard and believed is the least that the society and the justice system owe to these children.
One of CSJ’s roles is to try and make the process of testifying a smooth one for the child. For this, we are proud of our legal and psycho-social support team which assists a child through the entire process. The justice system in India has now begun to recognise the difficult journeys made by child victims of sexual violence and we support the implementation of these changes. In the longer run, we hope that our work, vision and values can further help in making these processes more restorative in nature.
*Name of the child has been changed to protect identity. The image in the post is representative.
Written By: Avaantika Chawla
Avaantika is a lawyer who represents children who have experienced sexual harm in Delhi trial courts.