British woman tells of humiliation by Indian court

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The Independent Online

A British woman who came to India to work for a charity developing women’s rights has told how she was humiliated in court and broke down after accusing a plumber of trying to rape her.

Kaya Eldridge, a graduate of the London School of Economics, has made a formal complaint to the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court after a defence lawyer asked her a series of “irrelevant questions designed to question my character”. In front of a packed court of jeering men, the 23-year-old was asked whether she drank alcohol, socialised with men and even how often she took a shower. All the while, the man she had accused of assaulting her sat just feet away.

“It has been an horrendous couple of weeks,” said Ms Eldridge, speaking from the city of Ahmedabad. “It’s an incredibly sad state of affairs but I think it’s important that I stand up, not just because of what happened to me, but because not every woman is in a position to speak out.”

Ms Eldridge, from south London, came to India at the end of July for a three-month internship with Mahila Swaraj Abhiyan, an NGO in the western state where she is working on a project designed to help empower women. She says she was assaulted by a plumber employed by the organisation who had been called to repair her shower when she was alone in her apartment.

After making a complaint to the police, a case was heard earlier this week where charges of molestation were put against the plumber. Ms Eldridge said the government appointed her a lawyer but no translator. She said she considered the questioning she underwent by defence lawyer Sanjay Prajapati to have been a “second assault”.

“People have some sort of idea that sexual assaults only happen to certain sort of women; it can happen to anyone, regardless of who you are or how many sexual partners you’ve had,” she continued. “To question my character in court was not only entirely irrelevant but totally humiliating.”

The British woman said that no-one in the court tried to interrupt the questions put to her, not even her own lawyer, who she has since fired. The only other British person in the court was her flatmate. Ms Eldridge said she found the experience “utterly isolating”.

The international relations graduate said that since news had spread of the alleged assault and of her subsequent treatment in court, she had received up to 500 messages on Facebook. “Most of them are from Indians in India and all of them attach messages of support,” said Ms Eldridge, who says she suffered bruises and scratches after the assault. “Others are from Indians outside of the country and they recognise that this is commonplace.”

No-one from the Gujarat High Court was available for comment but the state’s bar association defended the type of questioning that Ms Eldridge was forced to endure. Anil Kella, chairman of the Gujarat Bar Council, told the Hindustan Times: “We do not have details of the questions asked but under the Evidence Act a lawyer is within his limitations. For the defence of his client it sometimes becomes necessary.”

Ms Eldridge said the assault she alleges to have suffered could have taken place anywhere and she intends to remain in India to complete her internship. Her mother is due to fly to India to be with her. However, in recent years there have been several high profile sexual assaults on British women here. Last year 17-year-old Scarlett Keeling was raped and murdered in Goa. The previous year a British freelance journalist was raped in the Rajasthan city of Udaipur by the owner of the guesthouse in which she was staying. Though convicted by a court and sentenced to life imprisonment, the man remains at large.