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Gender Just, Gender Sensitive, NOT Gender Neutral Rape Laws

March 8, 2013

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Statement by feminist and queer groups and individuals:

The report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the 2012 Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill as well as the 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance not only violates the letter and spirit of the Justice Verma Committee (JVC) recommendations but endangers and deepens women’s vulnerability in this country.

Representatives of women’s groups, democratic and human rights groups and activists are alarmed about major lacunae in current legislative protection to women, upheld by the Standing Committee report, and we insist on the following:

The Accused Must Be Male.

One pernicious provision of the Ordinance 2013, upheld by the Committee report, is blanket gender neutrality of the perpetrator of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Put simply: unlike in existing law where the accused is male, the Committee recommendations if enacted into a proposed new Bill, will make it possible for women to be charged with these offences. This is wholly unacceptable for the following reasons:

The Reality of Rape: It is an act of violence that must be seen in the context of deeply entrenched power inequalities between men and woman in our society. Gender neutral provisions only strengthen those already powerful, silencing the real victims. The police and legal system are part of this inequity and bias against women, evident in the huge impunity for rape in our country. Recommending that these laws be gender neutral makes mockery of this reality.
The Chilling Effect: Apart from situations where women hold positions of statutory authority (like police officers, etc), in all other situations, making the accused gender neutral means that complaints by women can be met with counter-complaints to get them to withdraw. Given the current odds against women securing justice, the gender neutrality of accused in sexual violence laws, will have a deep chilling effect on women’s ability to even file complaints.
Men, not boys: There is no basis to the argument that gender neutral laws allow young boys to be protected from abuse, because all young boys and girls are fully protected by gender neutral laws in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012.

Further we hold that:

Age Of Consent Must Remain 16: The Standing Committee report endorses the 2013 Ordinance, by raising the age of consent from 16 to 18, thus criminalizing the consent of young persons and exposing them to unjust imprisonment by forcing judges to take action merely on third party complaints, including khap panchayats. At the very least, any proposed new law should allow for a Young Person’s Defence, where consent of young persons between 16-18 years is taken into account if there is no more than 4 years age difference between two consenting parties.

Rape Within Marriage Must Be Recognized As An Offence: Marital status must not have any bearing on the right of a woman to say no! The law must recognize when sexual assault and rape occur within marriage. Also, current IPC provisions recognizing rape in the context of judicial separation must be replaced by simple separation, given that most separated couples do not get judicial decrees, but simply start living apart. Without this change the law makers are only sending a signal that even while living apart from her husband, a woman can be raped by him without any recourse to justice.

There should be no impunity for sexual assault by security forces: We are deeply disturbed by the silence of the Standing Committee on this issue. The existing statutory immunity for armed forces ‘acting in the line of duty’ surely cannot apply to sexual assault committed on women. No sanction should be required to proceed with prosecution of such personnel in sexual assault cases.

As the 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance and the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee enter into Parliament for debate, we urge ALL PARTIES aligned with women’s rights to ensure that laws made in the wake of the brutal Delhi gang rape case do not leave women even more vulnerable than they already are.

Date: 6th March 2013, signed by:

- Kalpana Mehta, Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch, Indore
– Vrinda Grover, lawyer, New Delhi
– Farah Naqvi, women’s rights activist, New Delhi
– Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, AIPWA
– Madhu Mehra, Partners for Law in Development, New Delhi
– Chayanika Shah & Sandhya Gokhale, Forum Against Oppression of Women, Bombay
– Deepti Sharma, Saheli, New Delhi
– Nandini Rao, New Delhi
– Albeena Shakil
– Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action, Bombay – Lawyers Collective, New Delhi
– Kalpana Vishwanath & Suneeta Dhar, Jagori, New Delhi
– Gautam Bhan, New Delhi
– AALI, Lucknow
– Nirantar, New Delhi
– Karuna Nundy, Advocate, Supreme Court of India
– Seema Misra, Lawyer, New Delhi

- Ayesha Kidwai, GSCASH, JNU

- Prita Rani Jha, Peace and Equality Cell
– Nivedita Menon, JNU, Delhi
– Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression

20 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2013 10:20 AM

    you may please add my name to the signatories. it is unbelievable what the govt and soniya gandhi particularly are suggesting.

  2. Gundam permalink
    March 8, 2013 10:44 AM

    To liberate all men of the world I need feminism desperately.

  3. March 8, 2013 6:41 PM

    I think that all sexual assault laws should be gender neutral. This doesn’t in any way detract from the seriousness of rape as a crime. How can it? We need more gender neutral laws in India including the entire divorce statute. Gender is irrelevant. We’re punishing the act. Nothing else.

    • March 9, 2013 12:41 PM

      भगवद महाशय, आप जैसे सौ प्रतिशत मर्दों के महान मर्द-विचारों को ही अत्यंत महत्त्व देते हुए हमारी महान मर्द सरकार ने बलात्कार के संदर्भ में यह मर्द-कानून बनाने का निर्णय किया है। इस बात से आश्वस्त रहिए कि अगर यह कानून अपने मौजूदा स्वरूप में जमीन पर उतरता है तो आप जैसे शुद्ध मर्दों को बहुत राहत मिलेगी। जेंडर न्यूट्रल कानून की वकालत करते हुए जरा भी सोचने की जरूरत नहीं लगी कि इस “महान” समाज में तमाम सामाजिक सत्ताओं के साथ-साथ बलात्कार के मामले में भी वास्तविक सामाजिक और प्राकृतिक स्थिति क्या है। जो संभव नहीं है, उसके लिए जेंडर न्यूट्रल कानून के हथियार के जरिए स्त्री को सजा का भागी बनाया जाएगा। यानी जब तक वह अपने खिलाफ यौन हिंसा की शिकायत दर्ज कराए, इससे पहले ही उस पर वही आरोप लगा दो या जवाब में भी यही आरोप लगाओ। इसके सामाजिक असर का अंदाजा लगा कर ही आतंक पैदा होता है।

      मेरा साफ मानना है कि बलात्कार के मामले में जेंडल न्यूट्रल प्रावधान, शिकायत सही नहीं पाए जाने पर शिकायतकर्ता को दंडित करने, यौन हिंसा करने वाले की पहचान उजागर करने वालों को दंडित करने के अलावा कुछ और प्रावधान ऐसे हैं जिन्हें देख कर लगता है कि यह कानून मूलतः पुरुषों की सुविधा के लिए तैयार किया गया है। क्या यह आरोप गलत होगा कि सरकार चूंकि जानती है कि उसे और आखिरकार पितृसत्तात्मक व्यवस्था की जड़ों को खाद-पानी सामाजिक सत्ताओं के जरिए ही मिलना है, इसलिए पहले उसे तुष्ट रखो? बाकी अपने शासित वर्गों को ये सत्ताएं खुद ही साध लेंगी। प्रगतिशील होने का दावा करने वाले इस कानून की व्याख्या की जानी चाहिए। प्रथम दृष्ट्या यह चिंता पैदा करती है कि क्या यह कानून स्त्री की दुनिया को सहज बनाएगा या फिर उसे पहले से भी ज्यादा सिमट जाने के लिए मजबूर करेगा?

  4. March 8, 2013 11:50 PM

    This is becoming a bit of a theme – there is a proposal in New York that would do much the same.

    http://www.2ndcouncilhouse.co.uk/blog/2013/03/06/redefining-rape-a-dangerous-development/

    Its a very worrying development.

  5. vishalbheeroo permalink
    March 9, 2013 1:18 AM

    plz add my name to signatories. It’s shame how the toothless law has been discussed. sad we are not willing to do anything about it.

    Vishal
    http://www.vishalbheeroo.wordpress.com

  6. Nam permalink
    March 9, 2013 12:01 PM

    • The Reality of Rape: It is an act of violence that must be seen in the context of deeply entrenched power inequalities between men and woman in our society. Gender neutral provisions only strengthen those already powerful, silencing the real victims. The police and legal system are part of this inequity and bias against women, evident in the huge impunity for rape in our country. Recommending that these laws be gender neutral makes mockery of this reality.

    I disagree completely.

    The writer ignores the fact that power inequalities in any given society, and especially so in Indian society, are intersectional. Gendered power inequalities are not the only kind that exist in India; inequalities of class, status, caste and wealth are at least as entrenched, if not more so, than those of gender, and this has a huge effect on social responses to sexual assault.

    Unless it is being asserted that male victims of rape do not exist in India (a tremendously ignorant assertion), the author’s entire argument is breathtakingly fallacious, because the non-responsive attitude towards rape is, if anything, much more apparent when the victim is a male. Indeed, a large majority of the country does not believe that the rape of a male is even possible, let alone a criminal offense.

    Having worked with such victims, I can personally attest that the level of alienation and insensitivity they face in greater society is astonishing to anyone who has an ounce of human empathy within their souls. I am all for making justice more accessible to women, but this cannot come at the cost of completely ignoring ground realities.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      March 9, 2013 12:50 PM

      So Nam, please just take another, more careful look at the statement. The statement says that the PERPETRATOR (ACCUSED) must be presumed to be male (except in situations of authority/custody i.e. police). The VICTIM is to be gender neutral – i.e. includes male victims of rape.
      Some humility and a sense that others are also thinking about these issues seriously, would enable you to read without self-righteousness clouding your comprehension, and could promote an actual conversation instead of the entirely misplaced attack you launch (“breathtakingly fallacious”, “completely ignoring ground realities”).

      • Nik permalink
        March 11, 2013 6:42 AM

        This is the reason why the perpetrator cannot ALWAYS be a man. 4 men gang raped a minor with the help of a woman. This is why the woman must also be treated as a rapist rather than an accessory to the crime. http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/uttarpradesh/Woman-among-3-held-for-minor-s-rape/Article1-1024333.aspx

        • Nivedita Menon permalink*
          March 11, 2013 9:05 AM

          The only reason I passed this illiterate comment is because I want to illustrate the misogyny of most men who want the perpetrator to be gender neutral. An accessory to a crime, even of rape, is always presumed to be gender neutral. But only a misogynist would say that a woman who brings another woman (to evidently ruthless and powerful men) to be raped, should be seen as a rapist herself, while doubtless, wanting to retain the difference for example, between the male driver of a bus in which a woman was raped and the rapist himself.

    • March 9, 2013 12:50 PM

      मिस्टर नाम या नैम… जो भी हो…
      क्या है आपके विचार में वह ग्राउंड रियलिटी… ?
      पता नहीं इस दलील पर हंसा जाए या रोया जाए?

  7. March 9, 2013 6:36 PM

    अगर कानून बनाने वालों और इस मामले में पुरुषों की पीड़ा से दुखी होने वालों को पुरुषों की चिंता है ही, तो उन्हें जेंडर न्यूट्रल बलात्कार को स्थापना देने के बजाय इस बात पर जोर देना चाहिए कि अगर किसी पुरुष या बच्चे के साथ जबर्दस्ती “अप्राकृतिक” यौनाचार होता है तो उसे भी किसी स्त्री के साथ होने वाले बलात्कार के अपराध की तरह ही देखा जाए। लेकिन इस तरह की किसी भी घटना में हमलावर और अपराधी पक्ष पुरुष ही होगा। इस हकीकत की अनदेखी कर “जेंडर न्यूट्रल” के हथियार के इस्तेमाल की खुली छूट देना स्त्री के लिए नई त्रासदी लेकर आएगा।

  8. March 13, 2013 5:59 PM

    I’m horrified that a group of feminists whose work I admire would be so close-minded and regressive as to say that rapists can only be male. Female adults are capable of raping both male and female victims. To say nothing of transgendered and transsexual people–with a presumed binary of gender, how would they get judged under such a law?

    If you are trying to defend the rights of rape survivors, then you should be applauding a gender neutral law that permits everyone to name their sexual violation as rape, regardless of the gender of the abuser. After all, you have already agreed that rape is not limited to forced penile penetration into a vagina.

    Claiming that gender-neutral laws will open floodgates of false accusations against women is as disingenuous as the argument that strengthening rape laws will lead to false accusations against men. Given the horrendous legal systems that rape survivors have to go through, no person of either gender is going to leap up with false accusations of rape with the glibness that you seem to presume. And even if they did–the truth or falseness of an accusation is for the courts and police to prove.

    But to argue against my right to call a women a rapist for her sexual violation of me… that disgusts me.

  9. Snes permalink
    December 16, 2013 1:05 PM

    Funny- you said boys are protected against rape under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012. So the day they turn 18 they somehow become immune to rape right ? An 18 year old boy cannot be sexually assaulted because now he is a man ? Oh no wait that’s not funny !

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      December 16, 2013 2:05 PM

      Sigh. Once again – The statement says that the PERPETRATOR (ACCUSED) must be presumed to be male (except in situations of authority/custody i.e. police). The VICTIM is to be gender neutral – i.e. includes male victims of rape.

      • ab_ra permalink
        March 5, 2014 7:17 PM

        Do you consider (consensual) sex between 30 year old lady and 15 year boy a rape or not? This is not protected under POCA(perpetrator should be male there), and now rape amendment is also gender specific. In all developed nations this will considered statutory rape, but not in India.

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