The legal system needs a major overhaul if rapists are to be brought to book
IN EARLYÂ October, three events took place. All relate to women and rape. On 5 October, the Central government decided to make an amendment in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. At the moment, if a woman under 15 is forced to have sex by her husband, it constitutes rape. If she is over that age, it does not. The government has decided to push the age limit up to 18, which in any case is the legal age for marriage.
Around the same time, a 30-year-old woman went to a Puja pandal in Navi Mumbai. She fainted during the festivities and was rushed to a nearby hospital. As she lay unconscious in the ICU, the resident doctor on duty apparently raped her. He has been arrested and the case is being pursued.
In the same week, a fast-track court in Mumbai dismissed a case filed last year by an American woman who had alleged that she had been gang-raped by six young men with whom she had gone out one evening. She was attending a short-term course at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). The judge declared her testimony as âunreliableâ and released the accused.
A related development to the above three incidents was the release of a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titledÂ Dignity on Trial: Indiaâs Need for Sound Standards in Conducting and Interpreting Forensic Examination of Rape Survivors.Â It exposed the extent to which even today the âfinger testâ is used to establish whether the raped woman had been âhabituated to sexual intercourseâ.
All these developments are related because they revolve around that four-letter word: rape. In different ways, they also illustrate the contradictions and the confusion that prevail on rape laws, their implementation and therefore their efficacy.
Take the first, the issue of marital rape, or non-consensual sex within marriage. Talk about it, or write about it, and you will instantly get media-savvy minority groups like Save The Indian Family jumping up and down and shouting that if there is a law on marital rape, Indian men will suffer even more than they already do under laws like Section 498 A and that the âIndian familyâ will fall apart.
It would seem that these groups, and I presume their members are men, have never heard of domestic violence that includes all forms of physical abuse, including burning the woman who is supposed to be your life partner. That they do not know that for every rape case reported and recorded in the crime statistics, there are hundreds that are never acknowledged. That they do not know that one of the largest incidents of violence against women in India is not what they experience in the public space but within the ostensibly secure reaches of their own homes.