A Victim Fights Back in Karnataka

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I would like to give the credit for my fighting spirit to my mom. She is a strong mother. So, it was never like for me to give up. She told me never to give up,” she says…reports M.K. Ashoka

 The survivors of sexual harassment usually do not speak out of fear for societal backlash. When the accused is powerful and influential, the pressure on the survivor could be unimaginable. However, this brave 21-year-old woman from Maharashtra, studying law in Karnataka’s Mangaluru, is putting up an inspiring fight, compelling the mighty accused to kneel before the law and surrender before the local Mangaluru court in a sensational sexual harassment case that made national headlines.

The victim, a law graduate student, filed a case of sexual harassment against the accused advocate K.S.N. Rajesh Bhat on October 18. He finally surrendered before the local court in Mangaluru in Karnataka on December 20. The Karnataka High Court recently rejected the anticipatory bail plea of the accused, who is presently in police custody. The bench headed by Justice K. Natarajan opined that the accused is a professional advocate and he could influence police, university and judges. The anticipatory bail can’t be provided in these cases, the bench said.

Even after the police had issued lookout notices through Intelligence Bureau (IB) to all the airports of the country to prevent him from escaping to a foreign country and forming four teams, they failed to arrest the accused. As the victim stood her ground, the accused advocate was suspended from the membership of the Karnataka State Bar Council. Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) authorities removed him from the Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) post.

Although not belonging to the place, the survivor, who faced the sexual harassment, threats, media trial and depression, alleged non-cooperation by police. She shared her experience. “My native is Maharashtra and I don’t have a dad. I would like to give the credit for my fighting spirit to my mom. She is a strong mother. So, it was never like for me to give up. She told me never to give up,” she says. “Why should I cry when I have not done anything? I am not liable to cry,” she says.

“One thing, it is not that we (girls) should be careful in all situations. It is those people who think of doing such a thing should be careful about not doing it. They should have that fear. For years, history is just going on like this that women are weak, it’s not like that now. It’s changed. I want every person who has, who does it, he should get punished. I will make sure that I do it after I complete the law,” she said.

“I was depressed for one and half a months. Later on, I thought it is not worth being depressed, at least not for him (the accused). Honestly, I would tell victims of sexual harassment to come forward and keep hopes on the law. I am a law student and I trust my law. But, from the police department, I can’t tell anything. Seriously, I can’t say anything. You can trust the law. That is one thing,” she said.

She further said, “I will win this case. No doubt, I will win this case. It’s not about winning. It’s about the way I felt for that one month before filing the FIR regarding the incident. And, whatever the accused had done, he had abducted my friend. She had done nothing. He made an affidavit that my friend and I did all this for money which is impossible. He deserves punishment. Because, if I had let him go, I am pretty sure in a a few days or few months he would have done it with some other victim, thinking that girls don’t have the power and he can do anything whatever he wants.”

Talking about the incident, she said, it was difficult in the beginning. But, then she got people who stood with her and because of them, she could do all these things like filing of the FIR and filing case, etc. She says she wouldn’t have done anything without their help.

“I joined there for an internship on August 18, 2021. The atmosphere was very friendly. It was good in the beginning. Later on, he started texting me, I told him not to text me. He was like are you feeling bad, you are like my daughter, like my elder daughter. Later, the incident of harassment took place on September 25. He threatened me after the incident. When I ran from the office, he threatened me not to tell anyone about the incident. If I tell, people will see my dead body. Somehow, I shared my experience with a few of my friends, some girls who were working there,” she said.

“After that, I was very scared. I had to face mental issues. I didn’t go out and I was very scared and there was an audio on social media platforms. He called me after the incident. He was crying and apologising. I was like no, that audio I sent to some two, three people and it also went viral. People knew that it was me because of my voice and there was also my name in the audio like he brings up my name in the audio. It was very difficult for me to face people. I used to feel like it is something very wrong to socialise with people. Later, many people tried contacting me and I didn’t contact anyone,” she revealed.

“All India Students Association contacted me, somehow I felt these people could best help me. So, people helped me and I met the commissioner, he told me that I file the FIR, we will see and give you protection. But, he didn’t give any protection,” she said.

“They (the Karnataka Police) didn’t even find him. It was he who surrendered. It was very difficult during the investigation. We had to go to places. We didn’t eat anything, like the whole day I used to go with the police only for the investigation… The police didn’t even send transport, no facility was given. They didn’t inform me what was happening. And, we did one small protest near Vidhana Soudha in Mangaluru, ACP called me and said what am I doing? He advised me not to trust others. I know the people who helped me to file FIR and did everything to help me. Why should I not trust them?” she said.

“The police officer was very rude and they called people who were there with me useless. We were very upset. Now, that the accused had surrendered and we don’t know anything. Like what is going on we don’t know. What is happening we don’t know? The police are telling my friend that I am not communicating with them. The officer didn’t even call,” she said.

“It was me who was cooperating and they weren’t cooperating. Till now we don’t know what is happening and where he is and what is going on? What about the charge sheet… nothing? They (cops) tell others, my friends I am incommunicado. If they call I will only communicate. Whenever I called him they were like come here,” she said.

“The first thing was I don’t know people here. I am new to this city. It was very difficult. But, later I came to know some. If I file an FIR and legal proceedings are initiated and people would come to know and he wouldn’t be able to do anything, I believed in this. Thanush Shetty, Vikhyat Ullal and social worker Prasanna Ravi madam they were with me. They met me just one or two days before filing of FIR. They were like they are ready to stand with me till the end. I told the whole story and they were like we will support you and file the FIR. I even said I don’t know singular, plural. It was Prasanna Ravi madam and all of these people assured me that why am I worried as they are with me. Wherever I had to go, if I had to go to the police station to file an FIR report these people were there with me,” she said.

“They meant their words. They did it and they are still supporting me. After filing FIR, we met the commissioner on October 18, it was around 4 a.m. We filed the FIR at around 1 a.m. It took time. The next day we were searching for his house. He was absconding and his video was on the media, he only put that video. Everyone came to know about the incident,” she says. “Now, I am going to college and I have exams. I am not totally able to focus, but I am trying to. Recently I went to Maharashtra and I met my mother,” she said.

“When it happened to me, people came to know it’s me. Because many of my friends were telling me to file an FIR, telling me that it happened with them also. But, they couldn’t do anything and I was like why? They were like … the family didn’t allow or they faced some or the other problem. Maybe their family member is someone who also did it. They were insisting for me to do it,” she shares her experience.

“The other victims told me they are feeling good that at least I did it. It’s like the victim always faces the bad side of society. Even when I filed the FIR, people were literally asking me why I am not crying in the audio. Why should I cry when I have not done anything? I am not liable to cry. People will think that way. It should not matter what people will think about what happened to you. Persons should stand for themselves. It’s okay if the police are not cooperating. The case will go to the court and court proceedings will start,” she said.

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