'Section 375' Reinforces Damaging Stereotypes About Rape Cases

The Quint
The movie wrongly depicts the survivor and other witnesses having to withstand examination by lawyers in the court.

(The review is rife with spoilers, please do not read if you do not wish to know the plot of the movie.)

One of the protagonists in the movie 'Section 375', Akshaye Khanna, said in an interview, that film is a medium different from others as it has a wider reach and is capable of communicating with the audience on a deeper level. He went on to say that he hoped the movie will raise relevant questions that others have not been successful in doing so.

However, that is exactly what is most troubling about the movie, which unfortunately, will discourage women from speaking out about sexual assault.

'Section 375' revolves around a movie director who has been convicted of raping a junior assistant on the set. He engages a criminal defence lawyer played by Akshaye Khanna to represent him for his appeal before the High Court. He is opposed by Richa Chadha's character, who plays the public prosecutor.

The defence, after claiming at first that there was no sexual intercourse at all, later changes its version, arguing that it was simply an affair gone sour and that the woman filed a false case of rape for revenge after being spurned by the man. It is eventually revealed that the rape case was indeed false, but the man is convicted nonetheless.

Akshaye and Richa's 'Section 375' Is a Tricky But Compelling

Perpetration of Negative Stereotypes

All that one has heard from the makers and cast of the movie is that it is 'balanced' and does not try to veer the audience either way. However, let us be clear - that's simply not true.

The fact that Chadha's character states things in court such as 'consent has to be given before each sexual act' or that 'an affair between the man and the woman is irrelevant to a rape charge' does not negate the general tenor of the movie, which reinforces damaging stereotypes about the supposed prevalence of false rape cases.

Given the prevalence of that discourse, of all the choices one could have made in directing a movie about a rape case, portraying a case where the woman admits to her lawyer of having filed a false rape case will invariably ensure that people leave the theatre not with a 'balanced' view but with a reinforcement of the deeply entrenched belief that of all the rape cases filed, most are false.

When the narrative of sexual violence is already skewed against women, the movie serves its purpose by buttressing the impediments a rape survivor already faces.

It is, though, understandable that an engaging courtroom drama can only be created using the layman's views on how courts work - with witnesses being examined and cross-examined and lawyers objecting and the judges allowing or overruling them.

Courtroom Depiction Might Aggravate Survivors' Fears

It would not be fair to question this very much as filmmakers are allowed creative freedom to make their movies interesting. But this is a movie which the makers claim to be legally sound and based on a lot of legal research done in consultation with senior lawyers. That being kept in mind, it must be open to fair criticism on that front.

While there are several inaccuracies in the procedures shown to be followed by both the lawyers and the judges in the movie, one pivotal point requires our focus.

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