Monday, August 23, 2004

Rape victim marries jailed attacker to avoid Muslim shun News

THE dusty Berhampur Central jail, 120 miles north of Calcutta, provided the setting for a bizarre wedding last week between a rapist and his victim.

The victim faced a life as an outcast, ostracised and stigmatised by Indian society for being on the receiving end of a violent sexual crime.

But if her assailant married her, the shame would be lifted in the eyes of the local Muslim community.

On the order of the court in Berhampur, Ahammad Shaikh, 30, tied the knot with Sabina Khatoon, 18, inside the local prison where he is serving his sentence.

Shaikh kidnapped Khatoon - the daughter of a daily wage labourer - from her village and raped her in a nearby forest in March this year.

After her father complained of the rape to the police in June, Shaikh was arrested. In the court he admitted having raped the teenager and was sent to prison for the deed.

Shaikh’s lawyers failed to bail him out and he expected to be handed at least a seven-year sentence within a few months.

Then, with permission from the court, an activist carrying out work among rural women, approached Shaikh inside the jail and informed him of the woman’s miseries after being ‘tainted’ by his rape.

The women’s rights activist suggested that Shaikh marry Khatoon. Shaikh said that he needed time to respond to the overture.

The court also said that if Shaikh came forward to marry Khatoon, it could consider his case with sympathy and a possible release.

Shaikh’s lawyers and Khatoon’s parents then petitioned the court that the defendant was willing to marry Khatoon, and they sought his release from the jail for the purpose of the marriage.

The court observed that it could never release Shaikh until he married his victim. However, it ordered that the two could get married inside the prison if they wanted.

As bride, Khatoon turned up in the jail with her relatives. In the presence of Shaikh’s relatives, the jailhouse wedding took place according to the Muslim rites, followed by a registration.

The jail officials and about 60 remand prisoners took part in the marriage celebrations, which included a feast.

"I took advantage of her weakness and assaulted her while she was alone. What I did was wrong," the apparently repentant Shaikh said at the end of the ceremony.

"Now I am happy to get a chance to make amends for the crime I have committed."

Khatoon, who looked very happy after the marriage, said: "For that act [of rape] I hated him. Sometimes I felt like I wanted to tear him to pieces.

"But I have a different feeling for him now. I have forgiven him because he has chosen me as his wife. I have to love him now."

After the marriage Khatoon went to stay with her in-laws, while Shaikh is likely to be released on bail within one or two weeks when his lawyers produce the marriage certificate to satisfy the judge.

In recent weeks, at the order of the courts, at least three such marriages between rapists and their victims have taken place inside jails in eastern India.

In all the cases concerned, judges ordered the release of the rapist prisoners when the marriage certificates were produced in the court.

A public prosecutor in connection with one case said: "Our job is to oppose the bail of a criminal. But in such a case we are happy to support the bail, as the man, in an act of repentance, pledges to take care of the woman as a permanent measure by marrying her."