Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rape Laws: Blind or Biased?

The Bandit Queen: Phoolan Devi was exposed from an early age to the lust and brutality of some men. She was married to a man her father’s age. Not only did he beat her up, he raped her repeatedly. Later she was accused of luring young upper caste boys and thrown out of the village. She suffered through countless heinous crimes committed against her by dacoits and Thakurs alike. Unable to fight back, she was arrested by the police and subjected to further humiliation. She was stripped naked and paraded in front of the entire village. Do I need to say anything more to expose the apathy of our society? It existed then and it exists now. And this is just one of the cases…it will take all my life to talk about the rest of them.

Why is it that we as a society are so insensitive to a rape victim? Why are they treated as if they are the criminals and not the victims? Why are the laws biased against them? Don’t believe me? Read on.

To quote from the Indian Penal Code:

 As per Section 375 of IPC a man is said to commit the offence of rape with a woman under the following six circumstances: 

1.       Sexual intercourse against the victims will, 

2.       Without the victims consent, 

3.       With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person that she may be interested in fear of death or hurt, 

4.       With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband, 

5.       With her consent, when at the time of giving such consent she was intoxicated, or is suffering from unsoundness of mind and does not understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent, 

6.       With or without her consent when she is under sixteen years of age. 

All in all, the onus of proving the charge lies solely on the victim.

Take point 1. Technically, only penal penetration amounts to rape. What do you call it if a woman is forced to perform oral sex? Or if she is penetrated by other objects, say digits? Is that something less than rape? If not, then why is only sexual intercourse taken into account?

Point 2: How is the victim ever supposed to prove that she did not consent to it? There can be no legal papers documenting that. In cases of rape, often there are no eye witnesses to testify. It is not the movies, where the lead manages to find a video of the entire event. Rape doesn’t happen under CCTV surveillance.

A similar argument can be put forth for the rest of the arguments. How is she supposed to prove it after all? 

Point 6, however, really caught my eye.  Technically a minor girl’s consent for sex is not valid. It is thought that they cannot and do not recognize the gravity of the act. When a girl turns major at eighteen…how does her consent at sixteen come into the question? Loopholes…

A similar problem arises in cases under marital rape. Officially, a man cannot rape his wife if she is above sixteen years of age. How can you have a wife with that age in the first place? Isn’t that a crime in itself? Girls in India can marry only after they turn eighteen. Moreover, is there any sane reason behind why a man cannot rape his wife? I do not think that marrying her automatically gives him a right over her. Is she a commodity he bought in the market? I do not think the Constitution allows that.  Does getting married shifts the ownership of my own body?

Marital rapes are not the only problem. Child and Custodial rape also occur frequently. Both are equally difficult to solve. In one the victim is often too scared to come forth, in the other, she has no proof. For custodial rape I have just one question. Will a woman not ‘consent’ to sex if you beat her up and put a gun to her head? If you torture her to the extent that she cannot differentiate between dream and reality?

 It is a well-known fact that the determination of rape becomes difficult with each passing day. After the first 24 hours, it is almost impossible. For those brave enough to file a complaint within this time, a medical test is conducted. The doctor examines the victim under various heads: Condition of her clothes, external injuries, nail clippings, bruises, taking blood samples. And then they conduct the ‘Two Finger Test’ (In India). Yes, it is as horrible as it sounds. A doctor pushes in two fingers to try and determine the state of her hymen, whether it is ruptured or not. He/she also tries to determine if the ‘victim’ has had prior sexual experiences. If the vagina is found to be ‘roomy’, she is accused of having an active sex life. This report then becomes the primary source of her decline.

The lawyers shove it in the face of the judge. If the victim is not married and is classified as roomy, she is declared to be of loose character. The entire proceeding turns into an attempt of character assassination.  If she is not married and ‘tight’, definitely a crime has been committed. But how do a woman’s past sexual experiences come into play here? If she has had it once, doesn’t mean she is an open booth, to be used by anyone. She might do it with ten different men of her own free will but no man should ever have the right to make her do it by force.

Moreover, the two finger test is an altogether unnecessary and avoidable test. It proves next to nothing and adds to the trauma of the victim. Is it not like going through it all over again? If done without permission, it is in fact a form of sexual assault. Why do we follow such primitive methods when most of the developed countries have done away with it? What is more…even our government has issued notices banning this test. But it is still the primary test on which the entire investigation report is based. And all it needs to get these reports altered is a little money and muscle power.

Why does our attitude change towards a rape victim? Do we ever accuse the victim of murder of asking for it? Then why do we think that a rape victim might have done so? How is she different? Why is she made to stand in courtrooms and raped over and over again by the system? Why does she have to relive each painful moment a million times? Was once not enough for this pervert system?

It is often said that the law is blind. For rape victims, it certainly is; blind to their suffering, their pain and biased against them. Probably a better title would've been 'Rape Laws: Blind AND Biased'. Right?

We really need a faster process which ensures justice to the wronged. Along the way, we need to sensitize all those involved; the doctors, the policemen, judges, lawyers…

The 172nd Law Commission report had made the following recommendations for substantial change in the law with regard to rape.
  1. ‘Rape’ should be replaced by the term ‘sexual assault’.
  2. ‘Sexual intercourse as contained in section 375 of IPC should include all forms of penetration such as penile/vaginal, penile/oral, finger/vaginal, finger/anal and object/vaginal.
  3. In the light of Sakshi v. Union of India and Others [2004 (5) SCC 518], ‘sexual assault on any part of the body should be construed as rape.
  4. Rape laws should be made gender neutral as custodial rape of young boys has been neglected by law.
  5. A new offence, namely section 376E with the title ‘unlawful sexual conduct’ should be created.
  6. Section 509 of the IPC was also sought to be amended, providing higher punishment where the offence set out in the said section is committed with sexual intent.
  7. Marital rape: explanation (2) of section 375 of IPC should be deleted. Forced sexual intercourse by a husband with his wife should be treated equally as an offence just as any physical violence by a husband against the wife is treated as an offence. On the same reasoning, section 376 A was to be deleted.
  8. Under the Indian Evidence Act (IEA), when alleged that a victim consented to the sexual act and it is denied, the court shall presume it to be so.
Each of the above points stands valid. I couldn’t have agreed more. It is time we changed our attitude towards rape victims. They need a shoulder to cry on, a hand to wipe their tears and a friend to support them as they wage a war against their offenders. They do not need to prove anything about their character, it is us, as a society, who needs a character certificate. Are we up for it?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life: Post Rape

“I'd still thought that everything I thought about that night-the shame, the fear-would fade in time. But that hadn't happened. Instead, the things that I remembered, these little details, seemed to grow stronger, to the point where I could feel their weight in my chest. Nothing, however stuck with me more than the memory of stepping into that dark room and what I found there, and how the light then took that nightmare and made it real.” 
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

Haunting memories…that is what the rape victims are left with. Memories which refuse to fade, wounds which refuse to heal and a broken heart which refuses to mend. Contrary to popular expectation, this post is not primarily about the causes of rape. It is that aspect of the crime which has been the focus of the media, courts and general public for years. What was the motive? Did she provoke him in any way? Whose fault was it? Just think…can a woman ever ask to be raped? If she asks for it, will it not just be consensual sex?

Different people have differing opinions there. To quote a male friend talking about rape:
“I think it is the most horrendous crime that can be committed. It is more brutal and torturous than murder. I don’t know how a girl feels when she is being raped, what happens to her belief in good things, trust, God, people, guys. Although there cannot be a legitimate reason for rape but the girl always needs to be careful.”

She needs to be careful while she is out clubbing with friends or decides to go to an isolated place with a man, known or unknown to her. True. I couldn’t agree more. Yet, when I ask my female friends for their views they talk of equal rights, responsibility of the police, rotten mindset…

This is a long-drawn debate. Both the sexes have strong and stubborn views. None will budge. But are the girls’ demands seriously unreasonable? Can we never have a city where girls can move about without fear of being violated? It is for you to decide.

The aspect which I really want to discuss here is the post-rape scenario i.e. the victim’s re-integration into the society.

It seems that the world unanimously condemns all the victims. The stigma and shame associated with rape seems universal. It breaks all barriers. World over, women refuse to speak up about it. They do not share their ordeal with others. They fear the society’s reaction. It is almost as if they have done the crime. Day and night they live in perpetual fear. Rare is the woman who speaks out. Rarer is the case where justice is administered.  What makes it so difficult for the women to open up?

Secondary Victimization: In a country like India, they keep mum thinking “log kya kahenge?”(what will the people say?). Society puts such pressure on these women. If the rapist did it once, the system does it over and over again. Her humiliation starts right form the time she goes to file a complaint. The word spreads like wildfire. In some cases people look at her with pitiful eyes while in others she is looked upon as something dirty, something impure. Yes, I used ‘something’ consciously. After all, that is what a woman is treated as. Can we not understand that she needs neither our pity, nor those looks? She needs our support so that she can fight the long and hard battle to win back her honour. She needs a system which functions efficiently, which doesn’t require her to testify against her violator publically, which doesn’t make her relive the ordeal in courtrooms (i.e. if she makes it there).
But she gets no help. She breathes but doesn’t live her life. It loses its charm.

Fear: This is another major reason. Though related to the first, it is of a different nature. It is the fear of being harmed again if she opens her mouth. She has no doubts that if she can be victimized once, it can be repeated. She lives in a constant state of fear. She broods so much that the details become even clearer in her mind. Thus, amplifying her self-hate, shame and fear. How can such a woman ever embrace the society again?

Trust: She does not and cannot trust anyone, anymore. Even the friendliest of touch can make her paranoid. Suspicion takes such deep roots in her mind that her every act is dictated by it. Every waking moment shaped by it. She loses that ability to love and be loved because love needs trust. If she feels so un-loved and so unwelcome, how can she ever make herself trust us?

Confidence: can you even begin to imagine the havoc rape plays with a woman’s confidence? It shatters her inside. She begins to falter at every step. The slightest disturbance throws her off-balance. The confident woman who was raped just does not survive. If she does, it takes her months, years to come back. She is dead to the world…and a dead woman has neither the will nor the power to come back to this world.

PTSD: PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Symptoms of PTSD include recurrent memories or flashbacks of the trauma, nightmares, insomnia and/or lack of interest in family, friends or hobbies. They may suffer from depression. They may also suffer from survivor guilt, have overwhelming emotions, and be irritable or jumpy. The victim needs proper therapy to get on with her normal life. Her recovery depends on a variety of factors like family support, economic situation and prior history of abuse. My fellow Indians suffer from an acute lack of knowledge when it comes to these issues. How can they give her what she needs when they are clueless about it?

Medical problems: Forced sex leads to a number of problems like unwanted pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They not only ruin her life but also serve as constant reminders of the event. Day in and day out she relives the rape. Such flashbacks often result in depression, low self-esteem and lost self-confidence. she might even attempt suicide (higher probability seen in adolescent victims).

 How would you feel if your loved one was made to suffer in such a manner? Surely you will not abandon her…then why do we not look after the other victims? Why do we make their life a living hell? Why do we not understand the problems they face? Can we not stop adding on to their burden?

The reason I wrote such a lengthy post is that I want you to know that rape doesn’t end with the act. It stays with the victim forever. It marks her life, scars it for all her years. A part of her dies when she is violated- the part which taught her how to love and how to live.

As a society we need to support her emotionally, socially and economically. She doesn’t deserve to be looked down upon. She needs a warm embrace…

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Honour Dishonoured

 For the past seven days I have been struggling with this one word. Never before have I experienced such emotions while researching a topic. I do not know where to begin. Nothing feels right except that perhaps I should let one of the rape victims speak first.

 “I was 20. The first time he raped me I was on my way to church. I was deeply religious then and invited him to join me at church every Sunday. I went over to his apartment which was next door to mine. When I got into his apartment he was in his living room typing some forgotten paper for some forgotten English class. All of his roommates had gone to church and he was the only one there. I said that I was on my way to church and that if he hurried he could go with me. This Sunday, however he seemed upset by something. Maybe it was the class that he was writing the paper for, maybe I was offending him by inviting him to church, I don’t know. All I knew at the time was that he was upset and that I felt the need to make him feel better. I didn’t want to leave him there feeling bad, especially since I would be gone to church for three plus hours. He didn’t like me going to church he said that I was trying to get away from him. I would often come home between classes if I had any time at all so I could see him or more so he could see me. This day he convinced me to skip church and spend the afternoon with him. We sat on his couch talking with some movie on in the background. I was wearing a pink sundress with a cardigan sweater. He started to kiss me and lay next to me on the couch and I was fine with this. He had made-out before and I enjoyed physical affection. By “made-out” I mean kissing and hugging no touching in private areas. He was trying to put his hand up my skirt and I kept telling him no and putting his hand on my back. He was very aware of my boundaries, I laid them out very clearly. But no matter how much I laid down the law he would always test my limits. This day was different he was far more aggressive and I was having a hard time keeping his hands where I was comfortable with them. I finally got up and told him that I was leaving. He promised to be good and I believed him. After I sat back down with him and we started kissing again it happened. He was being aggressive again but this time was different. Usually I could move his hands away and he would let me but this time he wouldn’t let me. After much resistance, he finally had his way with me. Seeing that, I just gave up. I thought “I’m not a virgin anymore what am I fighting for?” I just let him finish. I was so ashamed. It was all my fault. After that I lost all sense of self-worth. He started hitting me and calling me names and controlling my life and I just let him. I remember him saying things like “If you’d just relax and stop fighting it wouldn’t hurt so much” when he was forcing himself on me. I still blame myself and have told no one this story but I had to get it out there. I don’t know why I’m writing this I just know that if this story lived inside me for any longer it was going to destroy me from the inside.”

 I have edited out certain details from this account but you can find the missing words at .

 This is but one of the thousands of victim stories. Some cases got media attention while others didn’t. In some cases the victims got justice while in others they just ended their life. In some cases they got help from the society while in others they were condemned by the same society.

 Raping a woman is the ultimate way of violating her. No other punishment is as severe, as disgusting or as personal. If all of us know this, then why does it happen? What can be the possible motive? Is it done for sexual satisfaction? It must be hardly satisfying if your victim is constantly putting up a fight. Is there some kind of ecstasy in hurting a woman like that? Do the perpetrators realize the after-effects of their acts?

 In most of the instances, the victim just goes into denial. She shuts out a part of herself. She runs away from everything which might trigger any memory of her rape. She refuses to believe that it has happened to her. She doesn’t seek help from the society. She just thinks it is her fault. That somehow she asked for it. Rare is the woman who speaks out against it in her first breath. It is not easy reading their stories. Think of how they must have felt when they were subjected to it…

 Yet we live in a society which brushes all such issues under the carpet. What is worse, often the victim is held responsible. Why do we have such an ideology? Who put this crap into our heads? Why can we never empathize with the victim? There are way too many questions, the answers slow in coming. That doesn’t mean we stop looking for them. If we are a society who is proud of its moral values and culture, then we shouldn’t be afraid of critically examining ourselves once in a while. It is time we sat down and took that exam…

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sita Ya Draupadi?

Women’s day! Ring any bells? Yes…it is that time of the year again when the world wakes up from its year-long slumber to celebrate womanhood. In India, we have a unique way of celebrating. We take stock of all the successful women we have, from business to Bollywood, and then wave them as placards of a society which values and loves its women. And well…that is about all we do. At the stroke of the mid-night hour, these placards are once again stuffed into big bags, carefully preserved for use next year.
For the rest of the year, women faithfully take up their role as the oppressed, depressed and suppressed. 

From birth till death, their lives are claimed by males, then be it their father, husband or son. A typical female in the Indian society spends the first 25 years obeying the rules and regulations set by her father. For the next fifty years (average) she is expected to comply with all the whims and fancies of her husband. If she is still lucky enough to survive, she becomes a full-time, non-paid maid for her sons (Pardon me for my bluntness, but that is exactly how it is.).

So where is the time when she lives for herself? When she does things as she likes, on her own terms? When does she express her individuality? In a country like India, where the girls are not welcome right from the time they are conceived, it is tough being a woman. Each day is a war for survival. There are no allies, just enemies.

The Indian woman has always been expected to take up the role of the ideal homemaker (catch any daily soap to see what I mean). They should be able to resolve conflicts peacefully, stand by their husband’s side even if he is wrong. They should be the ultimate example of patience and perseverance. If she wields her power, it is only for her husband’s sake. She never uses it for her own because that would be selfish and Indian women are not selfish.

Maybe this attitude towards women has roots in our mythology. We have Sita, Sati and Draupadi. Sita, who didn’t say a word when her husband questioned her character. Instead of putting up a fight, she sank down into the Earth. She knew she was right but couldn’t bring herself to oppose her husband. Sati, who jumped into flames, when it came to choosing between husband and father. Who willingly gave up her life, rather than dishonor one of the men who controlled her life. And Savitri, who undertook a long and difficult journey to get her husband back.

Obviously , a married woman can’t raise her voice today because Sita wouldn’t have done that. We do not have choices because Sati didn’t have any. We cannot just dump our husbands, even if he turns out to be an authoritative fool, because Savitri wouldn’t have done that. All along the way, we forget Draupadi, who is often called the very reason for Mahabharat. She defied all the normal marital laws. The very people who want us to be like Sita, refrain from commenting about Draupadi. She, who had five husbands, who claimed back her body when they gambled her as their property, who unbound her hair and challenged her husbands to bathe them with the blood of those who dishonored her. She has always been the controversial one.

From her view-point, Sita chose to go back to mother Earth because she didn’t consider it worth living with a man who didn’t trust her. Sati took the leap because she was fed up of this male-dominated world. They seem to be the most misinterpreted women to me. Their bold actions have been toned down and wrapped in the soothing fabric of ‘womanly duties’. What they did for themselves, has been projected as acts of selflessness and devotion to their husbands by the male pundits and gurus. The result: Unrealistic expectations from the women today.

Women seem to have no voice of their own. All they have is their body and soul, which has also been claimed by the administrators of society. They are worshipped as creators of life, yet their own life is one of never-ending pain, sacrifices and prejudices.

But why go back to their era? You’ll get concrete proof of what I want to say soon enough. This year, Holi and women’s day coincide. See for yourself the incidents of eve-teasing and harassment that the young girls will be subjected to. Is that how we treat our women? Sadly, yes, it is.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New URL :)

Hello friends...
As a rather nice birthday present from my parents, i got a website of my own.
The new URL for my blog is
My apologies for the inconvenience...