#GuestPost: Women’s Day Special: Law and women by Priyangee Guha

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Law and women

by Priyangee Guha

UN sets a theme to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 every year. This year’s theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” to “ensure that gender equality is—and remains—a national priority”.  This is not the first time we are celebrating Women’s Day around this theme. It was “Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals” in 2003; “Gender Equality Beyond 2005; Building a More Secure Future” in 2005; “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All” in 2010; and “Equality for Women is Progress for All” in 2014.

In India, the Constitution aims to ensure gender equality in the country. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender. It also acknowledges the need for legislation to provide special provisions for women. There are many statutes that aim to protect women from discrimination and to provide women with a safe and healthy social atmosphere.

In recent years, we have witnessed the legislations of laws such as Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. We have also witnessed the amendment of criminal laws in 2013. The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2013 did not bring all the changes recommended by Justice Verma Committee Report. For example, we recognise “marital rape” as an offence only in limited cases. When the wife is less than 15 years old or if the wife resides separately, sexual intercourse without consent will be deemed as rape. We did witness some significant changes in the existing criminal laws.

After the amendment, we have a wider definition of rape. Earlier, only a forceful penile-vaginal intercourse was considered as rape. After the amendment, the offences include insertion of penis into the mouth, urethra, and anus of the women. It also includes insertion of objects into the vagina, urethra, and anus of the women.

We can see similar definition of rape in Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) which deals with sexual offences committed on minors. According to 2014 Report by National Crime Records Bureau, number of rape cases increased from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013 and 36,735 in 2014. Some argued that the increase in number of cases signify that the law is being misused. They also argue that low conviction rates for rape cases in courts signify that there are high number of false cases in courts. It is important to note that according to 2014 Report by National Crime Records Bureau, following are the offence wise conviction rates for some offences in India:

Offences Conviction Rate (%)
Rape 28
Attempt to Commit Rape 14.7
Dowry Deaths 33
Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty 28
Insult to the Modesty of Women 21
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 19.1
POCSO 24.6

 

According to the same report, conviction rates of some of the other offences are:

Offences Conviction Rate (%)
Riots 17.2
Criminal Breach of Trust 22.7
Cheating 22.2

 

Acquittal-Conviction rate should not be the parameter to assess whether a case is genuine or not. We should not ignore the other nuances. But, the cry that there are too many “False cases” always seems louder for laws that aim at protecting women.

Image from http://rhrealitycheck.org

Image from http://rhrealitycheck.org

When a women reports sexual abuse in workplace, no one believes her. She is asked all sorts of questions. She is expected to remember every minute details of the incident. She is expected to report the abuse immediately. The society questions her motive behind filing a complaint. They ask her why she is being so “difficult” with her colleague who was just being “friendly”. For after all, “men will always be men”. After she answers all these questions with clarity, when it is clear that she did face harassment, her workplace will leave no stone unturned to make her life miserable and force her to leave her workplace. Let us not forget what happened in TERI.

Law, as a subject, cannot exist on its own. We should take inputs from other related fields like social work, psychology etc. For instance, when we summon a 5-year-old child to testify about sexual abuse that happened 2 years ago, we should consult psychologists to understand the consequence of the abuse the child has suffered. Instead of expecting the child to remember every detail of the incident, we should understand the concept of “fight, flight, or freeze” as possible psychological reaction at the time of abuse.

When witnesses turn “hostile”, do we enquire into the reason behind it? Do we provide adequate protection to our witnesses? Witnesses in Asaram Bapu’s cases have been disappearing regularly. Instead, judges now use terms such as “rape case survivor” for the acquitted accused after the prosecutrix retracts her statements and turns hostile.

Lately we have been focussing on severity of punishment instead of proper implementation of the law. We have come a long way in terms of laws related to protection of women. We need greater accountability in its implementation.

 

This piece was written by Priyangee Guha

priyangee

Priyangee is a senior associate with the Counsel for Social Justice. The organisation works mainly with abused children, providing both legal and psychological support for survivors of sexual assault.

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1 Comment

  • Arvinder

    Great message ,but give shape of movement for women rights please .

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