This is one of the best examples of the Rashomon Effect—contradictory interpretations of the same event—named after Akira Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon—where observers are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it, making it difficult to ascertain what to believe or disbelieve.
In less than a month’s time, the complaint filed by a model, in her twenties, aspiring to a career in films, has gone from a serious charges against a serving police officer that shocked one and all to accusations of cynical political point-scoring and insinuations.
At a time when crimes against women are showing no signs of let up, when the said model filed a complaint of rape and molestation against DIG Sunil Paraskar on July 23, it made one sit up and take notice because a senior IPS officer, no less, was alleged to have used his position and power to extract sexual favours from a vulnerable civilian he was duty bound to protect.
At present, the sessions court in Mumbai is hearing arguments for anticipatory bail for Paraskar. If his application is rejected, he will be arrested; perhaps for the first time in the city that a senior police officer would be sent behind bars for rape.
However, it is not as simple or straightforward, say those defending Paraskar. The model filed the complaint more than six months after the alleged incident of rape and molestation. The said incident is alleged to have happened in December 2013 when Paraskar was the Additional Commissioner of Police in her area. Defence lawyer Rizwan Merchant says she continued to be in touch with Paraskar, and even exchanged gifts and met his wife. “That she continued to live a normal life is obvious from her tweets of that time, where she was posting about parties and so on. Where is the depression and shell? Why were they exchanging expensive gifts”
Out of the blue, Saamana, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, had editorials speaking about how one should be cautious about media trials in cases of rapes, nearly declaring support for Paraskar. Later, the Sena clarified they were not supporting him and only wanted a fair probe. But, within a day, the paper repeated its stand, again backing the DIG.
Paraskar himself has acknowledged that he knows the model, but has refuted the charges of rape and molestation vehemently. Outside the court, he comes and goes stealthily to avoid camerapersons. In the courtroom, he is silent and assists his lawyer once in a while. He was seen speaking to a few crime reporters but he refuses to speak about the case.
The model’s former lawyer Rizwan Siddique has gone on record saying she mentioned neither rape nor molestation in the initial discussions with him and that the complaint was at best about an officer failing to discharge his duties. A leaked audio and CCTV footage of their conversations/meetings are making the rounds, to which the state women’s commission has taken strong objection. The recordings have not been verified.
“I have written to the Commissioner of Police and Director General as well, asking for the said DIG to step aside or be suspended, till the investigations are going on. The fact that he did not agree to a lie detector test and claimed that his mobile (which is said to have evidence) was destroyed does not inspire confidence. I also wrote to the Bar Council to take strict action against the lawyer who made a privileged conversation (between lawyer and client) available to the media. This is setting a very dangerous precedent,” says Susieben Ben, Chairperson of the State Women’s Commission.
Then there is email correspondence of about 40 mails since January 2014. Merchant, the lawyer for Paraskar maintains that the model started developing a story of betrayal and vengeance only in the past few weeks. He argued in the court that Paraskar referred to her as sister in one of his mails. “Even if the argument is stretched, at best, there was a relation with consent. There is no question of rape or abusing position of power.”
At the heart of the matter is an old case of escorts racket under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act and perhaps a flawed relationship that revolved around it. “The model and her sister herself were complainants, but she felt worried that the police will drag her into it as an accused and destroy her career. She was desperate to save her future. She could not have complained when he was the Additional Commissioner of Police in her area,” explains her lawyer Chitra Salunke. “She did not even share anything with her family for a long time. How could she?”
So that accounts for the delay. But the activists following the case have reason to be concerned. The defence lawyers, on behalf of Paraskar, will leave no stone unturned to prove that the model has thought of this case only now for revenge, they point out, apprehending that the process would result in playing on the stereotypical notions of a struggling model and actor—in terms of her insecurities, monetary pressures and above all the way our society—producers, agents, watchman, neighbours, police officers, everyone—and its patriarchal attitudes are weighted against a young career woman.
Paraskar, in these accounts, is already being projected as someone who is being made to pay for "minor alleged lapses" with a model. “Even if the relationship is proven to be with consent, look at the damage he has caused to his personal life. Few days with a model and family life of years is ruined,” says an onlooker, quite oblivious to the model’s personal or family life.
The mention of her tweets—which can be perceived as silly, happy, outlandish or provocative—in the courtroom has thrown up the same set of questions that even a member of Parliament raised the other day on the floor of the house when he talked about the need for women to be "dressed dignifiedly." After all these recent public discussions, it is sad to still be stuck on the subject of the way a woman dresses or speaks—or, in this case, tweets—and her "desperation" to have a career in Bollywood.