The alleged Coimbatore Air Force rape case, that came to light a few days ago, once again corroborated the two unfortunate facts pertaining to rape victims. That it cuts across all demographics. Second, the trauma and harassment of a rape survivor does not stop with the incident. In fact, it begins with the decision to lodge a formal complaint seeking action.

A woman was allegedly raped at the Indian Air Force College in Redfields, Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu on September 10; after which an FIR was registered on September 20. The FIR mentions flight lieutenant named Amitesh, who was arrested and sent to judicial custody on September 26, 2021.

Representational image.
Representational image.Creative Commons.

What the FIR says?

The FIR details the alleged sexual assault that took place at the institution and also levels serious allegations against the IAF, reported The News Minute.

As per the FIR, the complainant was subjected to the banned two-finger test during medical examination, apart from being intimidated and dissuaded from filing an official complaint

The fateful night

As per the details in the FIR, The complainant sustained an injury on the evening of September 9 because of which she was given a painkiller. Later in the evening, the complainant along with her batch mates, went for a few drinks to Officers' Mess Bar. She had two drinks, one of which Amitesh allegedly insisted on paying for. Sometime later, the complainant started feeling nauseous and vomited, following which, two of her friends took the complainant to her room and put her to bed.

Eventually, the accused Amitesh allegedly entered her room and tried waking her up, but he was asked to leave. As per the official complaint, the victim was woken up the next day by one of the peers who had helped put her to bed. The friend informed the survivor about Amitesh being there in her room and asked whether he was there consensually.

Based on the friend's account of what she saw, and on further physical evidence of what had transpired, the victim realised that she had been sexually assaulted. Later, when she confronted Amitesh about the incident, he allegedly apologised for violating her and said she could take, "any action against him."

The trauma, post the alleged rape

As has usually been the case with most rape victims, the complainant was asked to think about her family and her reputation, before reporting the matter to higher authorities. When the complainant and her friend approached the seniors, they were offered advice instead of support. One of the women Wing Commanders also offered similar advice, because of which the victim initially decided to not go ahead with the complaint.

Later on, the woman and her friend were called by two officers and given two options; either she filed a complaint or gave it in writing that it was consensual. After the official complaint, the survivor was asked to go to the hospital for medical examination.

The banned two-finger test

Post the Nirbhaya Gang Rape case, ban on two-finger test was a part of the rape laws overhaul in India. Subjecting the survivor to the test ever since is illegal. Not only is the test unscientific, but it is also ethically and morally wrong to take survivor's sexual history into account for determining whether a sexual assault has been done. However, when the complainant went to the Air Force Hospital, she was not just made to undergo the banned two-finger test, but was also asked about her sexual history.

Haryana teen gang raped
[Representational Image]Creative commons

Evidence delayed is evidence tampered with

As a per a report in The News Minute, the FIR mentions that victim's swab sample was taken on September 11and had come back negative. However, she later discovered that the sample in question had not been sent to the relevant medical authorities till September 20, the day the complaint was filed. Forensic experts say that vaginal swabs are time-sensitive and ideally should be the tested the same day they are collected. If not stored properly, the swabs can give skewed results.

That is not the only instance where evidence was delayed or tampered with. The FIR says that the victim's bedsheet, with Amitesh's semen stains, was handed over to the Air Force Hospital and she had asked for the mattress cover to be collected from her room. When she was reassigned a room, her old one was not sealed off properly until September 17, while the mattress itself remained inside the room too.

Where does the buck stop?

As if the trauma of the incident is not enough to live with, every rape survivor invariably has to undergo moral policing, speculations, judgement about her choices. The complainant mentioned in the FIR, that it took days for her to start thinking straight about the larger cultural sexism and moral policing at play. Goes without saying, the courage to report the incident and pursue things legally, did not come easily or quickly.

Instead of being supported or counselled, she was discouraged from pursuing the matter. The FIR states several instances of harassment and moral policing by the college authorities, including opinions on smoking and drinking. The complainant says that she was discouraged from complaining many a times on the grounds that the FIR would leak to the media and her identity would be revealed.

Reportedly, the affidavit, filed in the court by Amitesh's counsel says that neither the police nor a criminal court have the jurisdiction to investigate the case as this was a case for the Court Martial System.

Tussle between Tamil Nadu police, IAF ensues

Ever since the case is being investigated by the police, a tussle has ensued between Tamil Nadu Police and Indian Air Force over who is authorised or empowered to investigate. While the police has already arrested the accused, his counsel N Sundaravadivelu argues that since the two officers belong to the Indian Air Force, therefore they are subject to the Indian Air Force Act.

He called the alleged rape incident beyond the purview of the CrPC. "As far as the Indian Penal Code is concerned, it will be applied by the court-martial authorities." The college authorities and institutes concerned have so far refused to make a statement on the matter, citing it subjudice.