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Prisons of patriarchy

Posted by Shreyans Jain Saturday, 20 April 2013 0 comments

In the aftermath of the incident of brutal gang rape and subsequent murder of a young girl ‘Nirbhaya’ in Delhi, there was massive outrage and strident demands for stringent laws to convict the perpetrators of barbaric crimes against women and award them deterrent punishment. In response to these humongous protests, the government did wake up and a committee was set up headed by Justice Verma to recommend changes to strengthen the punitive system of our society. The committee did discharge its duties faithfully in a short span of time and for the first time, there was a set of reasoned recommendations, backed by painstaking homework recognising that sexual violence was about power, not sex; and that urged the citizens to stop viewing women as repository of family honour and instead understood sexual violence in terms of an attack on women’s bodily integrity and dignity. The Justice Verma Report was a breath of fresh air, letting in the flowing wind of freedom into all the prisons of patriarchy.

The new law (in which most of the ‘controversial’ issues have been left out), undoubtedly, broadens the definition of sexual violence, recognises stalking, molestation, harassment, acid-throwing and voyeurism as an offence, and introduces harsh punishments, but contains many conflicting issues that militate against women’s autonomy and rights, and protect the impunity of the convict and hence need to be discussed thoroughly.

Firstly, the ordinance makes the perpetrator of rape ‘gender neural’, i.e. both men and women can be accused of rape. This could mean that if a woman garners courage to file a rape complaint against an accused, he has the right to file a counter complaint of rape against her. It seems the new provisions tend to make women even more vulnerable than they are under the existing laws.

Secondly, the ordinance legitimises marital rape and strengthens the idea of commodification of a wife in the hands of her husband. It also retains the provision of lesser sentence (minimum of two years) for a husband who rapes a legally separated wife. So, even if a wife has the audacity to challenge the norms of this patriarchal society and separate herself from an abusive husband, the gray areas of the law can be exploited to undermine the rape complaint and make excuses to get away with harsh punishment.

Thirdly, the ordinance is aimed at branding any sexual contact between young girls (between the age of 16 and 18) and their male counterparts by their consent as ‘sexual violence’, which in itself is an attack on the freedom of young people. Not only does it fail to ban the mortifying ‘two-finger test’, its definition of rape actually legitimises it, in the name of “penetration for medical purposes”.

The shoddily-drafted and anti-women law, enacted stealthily before any citizen of the country could analyse it, is not only a disservice to the painstakingly prepared Justice Verma Report but a breach of trust that was bestowed on the lawmakers by the innocent citizens.

As long as the key issues regarding the safety of women are neglected, their autonomy and rights will continue to remain imperilled in the prisons of patriarchy.


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