In the wake of the gang rape of a student on a moving bus in Delhi, on 16 December 2012, the public anger in the form of protests took place at India Gate, Raisina Hill, and Jantar Mantar in the Indian capital city of Delhi, and in other urban and rural areas of the country. These are the first mass agitations to support women’s right. For too long, women in India have been viewed as second-class citizens, always expected to walk a few proverbial steps behind their male partners. Not only in public, but in homes as well, violence against women is an all-too-common occurrence. But still feminism is not a popular term in India.
On the other hand, different governments in India have claimed that their steps to empower women have been successful. I remember few months ago, seven women entrepreneurs proudly declaring in front of the public that there was no need of any feminist ideas anymore because the Indian women have already been empowered.
In my articles, I have discussed at length that Indian feminism needs a different perspective from the one that is applied in the Western countries. The Indian feminism should be rooted here.
The topic of sexual violence against females has never received a serious thought. In the Indian Penal Code – rapes, kidnappings and abductions, dowry deaths, domestic violence, torture (both mental and physical), molestations, sexual harassments are some of the crimes that come under VAW or Laws Relating to Violence Against Women. Other offences like determining and aborting of female fetuses, and demanding and harassing for dowry falls under the Gender Specific Laws. Indian Constitution, under Article 14, guarantees “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the law”. It empowers the State to take affirmative measure for women under Article 15 (3). All gender specific laws find their genesis under this Clause. Article 21 guarantees the right to life with dignity and without violence for every citizen. Directive Principles of State Policy, under Article 39, enjoins the State to provide adequate means of livelihood for men and women, equal pay for equal work for both men and women, and ensure just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women.
Despite the ostensible acceptance of women’s rights in the eyes of law and Constitution, the violations against women do not only exist, but are also on the rise. The latest available statistics compiled by the home ministry's National Crime Records Bureau show that between 1953 and 2011, the incidences of rape rose by 873 per cent, or three times faster than all cognisable crimes put together, and three-and-a-half times faster than murder. In India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes, and a bride burnt for dowry every 58 minutes. The police last year registered 42,968 cases of molestation of. The number of crimes recorded against women, including sexual harassment, cruelty by husband or his relatives, kidnapping or abduction, and human trafficking, exceeds 2,61,000. Shocking as these figures are, they are actually a gross underestimation of the actual number, because crimes against women are highly under-reported.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines that if a man has sexual intercourse with a woman below the age of 16, with or without her consent, he is guilty of rape. A nominal punishment is provided if the wife is between 12 and 15 years of age, or is living separately from him. Apart from ‘consent’, the other determinant for rape, according to the law, is that there must be a penetration of the woman’s vagina by the penis only. Penetration with any other object, be it life-threatening (a knife, an iron rod, etc), though more physically harmful, is not to be considered a rape. In that sense, the penis is accorded a privileged position in comparison with other objects. The act of penis penetration is based on the control men exercise over their women. In other words, the priority given to penetration by the penis, over all other forms of penetration, is historically based on the need to defend the rights of the legitimate father, rather than the woman’s physical integrity. The act of rape violates the father’s rights, as it leads to pregnancies by other men, and threatens the patriarchal power structures.
This fallacy of our Penal Code is responsible in lessening the importance of violence. Despite the fact that rape is an extreme form of sexual abuse, sex is not seen as the main issue-in fact, rape has more to do with the notion of chastity, purity, virginity and fertility. A rape also can obliterate a normal life of a woman when society holds her responsible her “impure” character. This accusation makes her life miserable.
The infamous rape case of Mathura in the late-1970s is one of the main examples of such injustice caused by our legislative system. Mathura was a 16-year-old tribal girl from Maharashtra who was raped by a policeman in a police station. When the case went to the lower court, the accused police constable was acquitted on grounds that since Mathura had eloped with her boyfriend she was used to sexual intercourse and hence could not be raped. The court further held that Mathura had consented to sexual intercourse with the policeman because she was of loose moral character. On appeal, the high court convicted the policeman and held that mere passive submission or helpless surrender by threats or fear could not be equated with consent. However, the Supreme Court acquitted the policeman again. It held that since Mathura had not raised any alarm and there were no visible marks of injury on her body she had indeed consented to having sex. Later, after a massive protest, Government amended the law with The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983, which states that if the victim says that she did not consent to the sexual intercourse, the Court shall presume that she did not consent.
The attitudes of society, state, law are never in favour of a rape victim. After an actual rape, a victim goes through several other rapes, such as police investigations; court prosecutions; neighbours’ presumptions; society’s speculations, etc. She is constantly reminded of the most heinous act she is desperately trying to forget.
Till now, the definition of ‘rape’ has been seen as a physical sexual abuse or so called ‘penetration’ as described in the language of law. A rape is much more than that-it is a psychological trauma, in addition to the physical torture. We must realize this truth.
The patriarchal views always tend to support a rapist and try to find woman’s faults. Never does it once think that a rapist should be punished. Sometimes the religious gurus or even police advises the victim to marry the rapist. What a pitiable mentality!
Now Sube Singh Samain, the spokesperson of the Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat of Haryana, has come out in opposition to the capital punishment for the rapists. His argument: such incidents have occurred in rural areas in Haryana and UP (Uttar Pradesh) but the people have never come up with such reactions. In one of his TV interviews, I heard him using the word ‘simple rape’. Did Khap Panchayat think a rape, which always obliterates the rest of the life of a victim, can be called as ‘simple rape’? Another outrageous thing he claimed: “Even women indulging in 'immoral' acts later allege rape on being nabbed."
False reports are sometimes filed. According to IACP (The International Association of Chiefs of Police) guidelines: ”The determination that a report of sexual assault is false can be made only if the evidence establishes that no crime was committed or attempted. This determination can be made only after a thorough investigation. This should not be confused with an investigation that fails to prove a sexual assault occurred. In that case the investigation would be labeled unsubstantiated. The determination that a report is false must be supported by evidence that the assault did not happen.”
False reports count in a single-digit percentage of the total reports. Besides, the total reports are a massive undercount of all the sexual assaults that took place. And there is a reason for that: the majority of the rape survivors simply decline to report. The incidence of false reporting is simply not high enough to justify the propaganda put forth by the pro-culprit lobby. I want to clear my stand that by saying ‘patriarchal’ I am not idiosyncratically pointing out masculine mass at all. There are many men who are not part of the patriarchal system. There were huge number of male protestors gathered during the protest against the inhuman deed of December 16. We should not forget that the one who reported first to the police about the injured girl and her friend was a man. Actually these agitations are not a war against masculine gender. These are agitations against patriarchy. And patriarchy never consists of masculine community only. A great number of women are also part of this patriarchy. The mothers in law and daughters in laws who burn the bride for dowry, the females in rural India who pursue their husbands to stand against a woman with an allegation of witchcraft, those women who always try to limit the freedom of a girl in the name of religions, traditions, and inheritances, all are the part of this patriarchal society.
In a seminar, arranged by police on ‘Sensitivity towards women' in Kharagpur, Dr. Anita Shukla, Secretary of Lions Club and an agricultural scientist by profession, opined that the rape victim herself was responsible for her pathetic condition; she should have surrendered herself to the rapists because that would have been the best option for her survival. She also raised a question as to why was the victim out of her house after 10 pm. She further said that such situations are bound to happen when a girl wanders late at night with her boyfriend. However, when the statement was delivered most of the senior police officials remained mute spectators. This saga continued with Shukla asserting in defense of the police that it was not possible to give protection to every citizen at all times. Such blithering idiotic women are the ones who unknowingly accept patriarchal subjugation as part of their ‘subjectivity’ for two minutes of fame.
Many commentators shared with a cynical tone that this leaderless, spontaneous over reactive mass movement may become a part of fading memory and, after few years, many would find it hard to recollect what exactly happened! Yes, it is true that this might happen. But the positive aspect of this movement is that there is also a possibility that it can change people’s mind-set and make them think that gender equality is not only good for the development of prosperous and happy society, but is also good for the future of children. It is important that people should not underestimate women’s rights and gender equality.
This is the proper time for these rights to be institutionalised with the support of the law. Those who try to bypass women’s rights and gender equality with an excuse that they are not part of Humanism (see my last article ‘Feminism is Humanism.So Why the Debate?’) must remember that it is an inseparable wing of Mankind.