The comprehensive reforms suggested by Justice Verma and his colleagues will protect the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape
Starting with Tarabai Shinde’s spirited defence of the honour of her sister countrywomen in 1882, women’s movements in India have been marked by persistent and protracted struggles. But despite this rich and varied history, we have in recent weeks found ourselves shocked at the decimation of decades of struggle.
At a time when despair and anger at the futility of hundreds of thousands of women’s lifetimes spent in imagining a world that is safe drive us yet again to the streets; at a time when our daughters get assaulted in the most brutal ways and our sons learn that unimaginable brutality is the only way of becoming men; at a time when we wonder if all that intellectual and political work of crafting frameworks to understand women’s subjugation and loss of liberty through sexual terrorism has remained imprisoned within the covers of books in “women’s studies” libraries; at a time like this, what does it mean to suddenly find that all is not lost and to discover on a winter afternoon that our words and work have cascaded out of our small radical spaces and transformed constitutional common sense?
The Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law headed by Justice J.S. Verma is our moment of triumph — the triumph of women’s movements in this country. As with all triumphs, there are always some unrealised possibilities, but these do not detract from the fact of the victory.
Rather than confining itself to criminal law relating to rape and sexual assault, the committee has comprehensively set out the constitutional framework within which sexual assault must be located. Perhaps more importantly, it also draws out the political framework within which non-discrimination based on sex must be based and focuses on due diligence by the state in order to achieve this as part of its constitutional obligation, with the Preamble interpreted as inherently speaking to justice for women in every clause.
If capabilities are crucial in order that people realise their full potential, this will be an unattainable goal for women till such time as the state is held accountable for demonstrating a commitment to this goal. Performance audits of all institutions of governance and law and order are seen as an urgent need in this direction.
The focus of the entire exercise is on protecting the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape — with comprehensive reforms suggested in electoral laws, policing, criminal laws and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, and the provision of safe spaces for women and children.
Arguing that “cultural prejudices must yield to constitutional principles of equality, empathy and respect” (p.55), the committee, in a reiteration of the Naaz Foundation judgment, brings sexual orientation firmly within the meaning of “sex” in Article 15, and underscores the right to liberty, dignity and fundamental rights of all persons irrespective of sex or sexual orientation — and the right of all persons, not just women, against sexual assault.
Reviewing leading cases and echoing the critique of Indian women’s groups and feminist legal scholars — whether in the case of Mathura or even the use of the shame-honour paradigm that has trapped victim-survivors in rape trials and in khap panchayats, the committee observes: “…women have been looped into a vicious cycle of shame and honour as a consequence of which they have been attended with an inherent disability to report crimes of sexual offences against them.”
In terms of the definition of rape, the committee recommends retaining a redefined offence of “rape” within a larger section on “sexual assault” in order to retain the focus on women’s right to integrity, agency and bodily integrity. Rape is redefined as including all forms of non-consensual penetration of sexual nature (p.111). The offence of sexual assault would include all forms of non-consensual, non-penetrative touching of sexual nature. Tracing the history of the marital rape exception in the common law of coverture in England and Wales in the 1700s, the committee unequivocally recommends the removal of the marital rape exception as vital to the recognition of women’s right to autonomy and physical integrity irrespective of marriage or other intimate relationship. Marriage, by this argument, cannot be a valid defence, it is not relevant to the matter of consent and it cannot be a mitigating factor in sentencing in cases of rape. On the other hand, the committee recommended that the age of consent in consensual sex be kept at 16, and other legislation be suitably amended in this regard.
Rights advocates in Kashmir, the States of the North-East, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and other areas that have witnessed protracted conflict and communal violence have for decades been demanding that sexual violence by the armed forces, police and paramilitary as well as by collective assault by private actors be brought within the meaning of aggravated sexual assault. This has been taken on board with the committee recommending that such forms of sexual assault deserve to be treated as aggravated sexual assault in law (p. 220). Specifically, the committee recommends an amendment in Section 6 of the AFSPA, 1958, removing the requirement of prior sanction where the person has been accused of sexual assault.
Clearly a sensitive and committed police force is indispensable to the interests of justice. But how should this come about? There have been commissions that have recommended reforms, cases that have been fought and won, but impunity reigns supreme. If all the other recommendations of the Committee are carried through, will the government give even a nominal commitment that the chapter on police reforms will be read, leave alone acted on?
The Delhi case
The recent gang rape and death of a young student in Delhi has raised the discussion on the question of sentencing and punishment yet again. The first set of questions had to do with the nature and quantum of punishment. Treading this issue with care, the committee enhances the minimum sentence from seven years to 10 years, with imprisonment for life as the maximum. On the death penalty, the committee has adopted the abolitionist position, in keeping with international standards of human rights, and rejected castration as an option. The second question had to do with the reduction of age in respect of juveniles. Despite the involvement of a juvenile in this incident, women’s groups and child rights groups were united in their view that the age must not be lowered, that the solution did not lie in locking them up young. Given the low rates of recidivism, the committee does not recommend the lowering of the age, recommending instead, comprehensive institutional reform in children’s institutions.
The report contains comprehensive recommendations on amendments in existing criminal law, which cannot be detailed here except in spirit. The significance of the report lies, not so much in its immediate translation into law or its transformation of governance (although these are the most desirable and urgent), but in its pedagogic potential — as providing a new basis for the teaching and learning of the Constitution and criminal law and the centrality of gender to legal pedagogy.
(Kalpana Kannabiran is Professor and Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad. Email: email@example.com)
The Supreme Court today modified one of its order on welfare and rehabilitation of sex workers on the Centre’s submissions that the last year’s order gave an impression that it seeks to legalise prostitution. Allaying the Centre’s fears that it was giving its seal of approval to prostitution, a special bench of justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Misra modified its earlier order, saying “the modification shall not be construed that by this order any encouragement is being given to prostitution.”
Modifying its earlier order, the bench clarified that it would only examine the “conditions conducive for sex workers to work with dignity in accordance with provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
It added it was keen that sex workers should be given opportunity to avail rehabilitation measures of the government and other agencies for them. While adjudicating a petition for rehabilitation of former sex workers, the apex court had on July 19, 2011 framed three terms of reference. Appointing a broad-based panel to look into the matter, the apex court by its July 2011 order had formulated three questions related to prevention of trafficking, rehabilitation of sex workers who wish to leave the sex work and “conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.”
On the Centre’s submission that the third term gave an impression that prostitution has been sought to be legalised, the apex court modified it to read as “conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.
“The above modification shall not be construed that by this order any encouragement is being given to prostitution,” the bench added. Justice Sudha also observed, “While we do not wish to encourage sex trade we would emphasise rehabilitation of sex workers for which we had taken the issue. “We wish to add although the sex workers have right to live with dignity. There has to be collective endeavours by courts and sex workers to give up flesh trade in case they are given alternative platform on employment.”
The Union Cabinet today approved the proposal for introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment ) Bill, 2012 in the Parliament.
The Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report on `Review of Rape Laws` as well the National Commission for Women have recommended for stringent punishment for the offence of rape. The High Powered Committee (HPC) constituted under the Chairmanship of Union Home Secretary examined the recommendations of Law Commission, NCW and suggestions various quarters on the subject submitted its Report along with the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2011 and recommended to the Government for its enactment. The draft was further examined in consultation with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Law & Justice and the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 was prepared.
The highlights of the Bill include substituting sections 375, 376, 376A and 376B by replacing the existing sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C and 376D of the Indian Penal Code,1860, replacing the word `rape’ wherever it occurs by the words `sexual assault`, to make the offence of sexual assault gender neutral, and also widening the scope of the offence sexual assault.
The punishment for sexual assault will be for a minimum of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life and also fine for aggravated sexual assault, i.e., by a police officer within his jurisdiction or a public servant / manager or person talking advantage of his position of authority etc. The punishment will be rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than ten years which may extend to life imprisonment and also fine.
The age of consent has been raised from 16 years to 18 years in sexual assault. However, it is proposed that the sexual intercourse by a man with own wife being under sixteen years of age is not sexual assault. Provision for enhancement of punishment under sections 354 and 509 of IPC and insertion of sections 326A and 326B in the IPC for making acid attack a specific offence have been made.
JUSTICE PRABHA SRIDEVAN IN THE HINDU
The state should not forget the human rights perspective while dealing with a victim of sexual violence. It should not doubly, trebly victimise her.
Women do not walk in a state of perpetual consent. But women do seem to labour under a delusion that it is safe for them to walk in public spaces, to travel in buses and trains. It obviously is not. They can be raped. It is difficult to understand rape. Rape is not about chastity or virginity. Long before these concepts were constructed, long before the institution of marriage was founded, a man raped a woman whenever he broke her sexual autonomy without her saying “yes.” It is a violation of her right to equality and her right to live with dignity which “We” promised ourselves when we gave to ourselves the Constitution. Surely women are included in the “We” of the Preamble, aren’t they?
Rape is the destruction of dignity through invasion of another person’s body without her consent. I use the word “her”, though the victim of this violence can be a child, a woman or a man. The anatomy of rape is common to all. But I will continue to use the pronoun “her”, since the majority of victims of sexual violence are female. Rape is a deliberate negation of the right over one’s body.
This right is born with us. It does not require a development of maturity or the consciousness of one’s body to acquire the right. So a girl child who is raped when she is 11 months old does not suffer less, nor is the crime less dark and bloody because the child does not know that she has the right not to be invaded. The consent that is required to make the sexual act not a rape must be understood as an active assent to the act. The consent cannot be presumed merely because a woman does not say “no”. She might not have said “no” because she was paralysed by fear, manacled by coercion or pounded by force. She might not have said no, because she was mentally damaged, incapable of making a decision in this regard; she might have been an infant, or disabled from moving because of physical incapacity. Yet it is rape. Only it is blacker if there is such a colour. It is the invasion of a woman who cannot say no.
Act of subjugation
It strips the victim of her dignity, it is intended to. It is an exertion of power, an act of subjugation, a statement that divests the victim of her right of control over herself and renders her an object. It is meant to objectify her. The dilution of the horror, by using words like “he lost control” is unjustified and is an insult to a woman. The violator does not lose control, but exerts control through the act of unspeakable violence.
In the Prosecutor v. Jean Paul Akayesu, the International Tribunal held that rape is a form of aggression, the central elements of which cannot be captured in a mechanical description of objects and body parts. It noted “the cultural sensitivities involved in public discussion of intimate matters and recalled the painful reluctance and inability of witnesses to disclose graphic anatomical details of the sexual violence they endured.” It was intended to reconstitute the law’s perception of women’s experience of sexual violence.
In a sensitisation programme for judicial officers, an exercise was given which would give a clue to the rape complainant’s feelings in court. All judicial officers were asked to close their eyes and imagine the experience of their first union with their loved one. Then they were asked to narrate it to the colleague sitting on their right. They were horrified at this intrusion of their privacy. Then the trainers asked them: “If you cannot narrate a pleasant sexual experience to a friend without inhibition, how do you expect a frightened woman in a strange court hall to narrate fluently, in the presence of a battery of hostile lawyers, her devastating experience of sexual violence?” The officers had no answer.
But what is the reality? She is broken by having to repeat the incidence of rape again and again. “Madam, what was he wearing at the time of the occurrence? Did his tee shirt have a collar or no?” Oh yes, she can surely recall in vivid freeze-frames of “the occurrence.” And who will save her if she falters just once in the witness box? “See your Honour, the accused was wearing a blue striped chaddy, but she says red … totally unreliable, Your Honour.” The Supreme Court has given strict guidelines on how her evidence should be weighed, and how her complaint should be assessed.
But a poor child who does not know an Ambassador from a Fiat was disbelieved by the trial court, until the Supreme Court came down with all its majesty to the rescue of the child and noted that the prosecutrix was a village girl studying in class 10 and her ignorance of the car brand, was irrelevant (State of Punjab v Gurmit Singh 1996 (2) SCC 384.)
In the Amnesty International publication, “Rape and sexual violence — human rights law and standards in international courts,” we read how the human rights perspective must never be forgotten while dealing with sexual violence.
Sexual autonomy cannot be understood outside the umbrella of human rights. Its violation must be criminalised. The report says, “Unfortunately, however, sexual autonomy is frequently conflated with narrow views of ‘consent’ under domestic criminal law which do not capture the reality of how acts of rape and sexual violence are committed … Sexual autonomy and consent are two distinct concepts. The concept of ‘consent’ as used in domestic criminal law imports a notion of individual choice, typically without a consideration of the reality of abuse of power (whether evidenced through physical force, or other forms of coercion) and other factual conditions that may prevail before, during and perhaps after the sexual acts in question. A consideration of whether an individual was able to exercise sexual autonomy, by contrast, takes into account the overall dynamic and environment surrounding those sexual acts and how these had an impact on the victim’s ability to make a genuine choice.”
A woman who is raped goes through a variety of feelings like denial, self-hate, grief, degradation, suicidal impulse and more. She falters in her narration, oh yes, she does, but not because she is a liar, but because the act of rape not only inflicts physical harm but also incalculable emotional and psychological harm. Chemical changes take place in her brain because of the trauma. She may go into a fantasy that someone will rescue her from this nightmare. Post-rape, she lives in a smoke world of truth and untruth, denial and depression, nothing is the same any more. She is screaming on the inside “please, please put the clock back.” This is just a short, incomplete statement of what is happening on the inside.
What is happening on the outside? The whole family is devastated, it even looks at her as if she somehow brought it on herself. “Why did you go there?,” “I told you not to wear that” and so on. So the woman wonders if the first enemy is the family. It is not in every case that the woman actually lodges a complaint, because she and her family know what will follow the complaint is worse. It is hell. It is not necessary to give the details of the experience on the way to the police station and inside the precincts thereof. The world looks at her as if she carries a stain on her all the time. She may never be allowed to forget the occurrence. So will a woman lie that she was raped?
The Amnesty International report reminds us that women and girls are not “likely to make false accusations of rape and sexual violence. This is a particularly irrational stereotype as women and girl complainants usually have very little to gain and everything to lose by making allegations of rape, there is rarely an incentive for them to lie; many complainants pursue their search for truth and justice at enormous cost to themselves, in terms of stigma and rejection by their families and communities.”
In this harsh reality, society and especially the state and courts must remember that they shall not doubly and trebly victimise her, nor raise a cacophony of distrust. It will only silence the voices against this horror.
(The writer is a former judge of the Madras High Court and Chairman of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board.)
SOURCE:Dignity is her birthright
The Constitution of India provides for special treatment of women, guarantees equality and prohibits discrimination. The government of India has been strengthening various laws focused on women and children. This has been more visible since the Beijing CEDAW Conference. The recent years have been witness to some landmark interpretations and directives related to Violence against Women. Despite the constitutional mandate of equal legal status for men and women, the same is yet to be realized. The dejure laws have not been translated into defacto situation for various reasons such as illiteracy, social practices, prejudices, cultural norms based on patriarchal values, poor representation of women in policy-making, poverty, regional disparity in development, lack of access and opportunity to information and resources, etc. The ground situation more or less remains the same.
Most of the laws come with various institutional machinery, partnership between various stakeholders and active role of NGOs. These institutions need to be in existence in order for the law to be effective. Also the policies and programmes made at the top takes a long time to percolate to the bottom and there is an urgent need of sharing information and resoursces.
The awareness on laws and access to justice remains dismal. At the district and the state level sensitivity on women rights among judicial officers, administration and the police is very low. This leads to a situation where the implementation of the law becomes difficult. Recently India has increased its budgetary support for the implementation of various laws on violence against women and it becomes increasingly more important for the organization like Shakti Vahini to work on governance specially related to women and children issuesThe National Legal Research Desk (NLRD) has been instituted to strengthen the implementation of the laws related to Women and Children in India. NLRD focuses on documenting the recent changes in the law, collect and compile the Recent Landmark Judgments of the Supreme Courts of India & the High Courts and ensure wide scale dissemination of the same through the government and the non government machinery. The NLRD will work with Law Enforcement Agencies, Police Academies, Judicial Agencies, Government Agencies, Statutory Agencies, NGOs, Civil Society and Mass Media on promoting Access to Justice for Women and Children. The NLRD website is a knowledge Hub for compilation of all Laws, Judgements and Resource materials on Violence against Women and Children in India. In the first phase (2012) it will focus on the laws related to Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice, Rape Laws, PCPNDT Act , Honour Crimes and Victim Compensation.
THE TRIBUNE Chandigarh, February 11
In a first, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has ruled that a husband cannot compel his wife to conceive and give birth to his child. Making it clear that relationships that know no limits too have boundaries, the high court has asserted intimacy is one thing, giving birth to a child another. “Mere consent to conjugal rights does not mean consent to give birth to a child for her husband,” Justice Jitendra Chauhan of the High Court has asserted. The judgment, pregnant with significance, also makes it amply clear that “to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health” does not give a man the right to prevent his wife from going in for an abortion.
The ruling came on revision petitions filed by Chandigarh-based gynaecologist Dr Mangla Dogra and others petitioners. The controversy in the case hovered around the decision of a wife to go in for medical termination of pregnancy without her husband’s consent. Married in April 1994, the couple and their son were initially staying in Panipat. Due to “hostilities and strained relations”, the wife started staying with her parents, along with her son, at Chandigarh. The wife conceived after she agreed to accompany her husband to Panipat during the pendency of her application for maintenance. She then underwent an MTP carried out by Dr Mangla Dogra, who was assisted by Dr Sukhbir Grewal as anesthetist.
The husband, subsequently, filed a civil suit for the recovery of Rs 30 lakh towards damages for mental pain, agony and harassment against his wife, her brother and parents and Dr Dogra and Dr Grewal for getting the pregnancy terminated illegally. Taking up the plea, a Civil Judge asserted: “There is a cause of action in favour of the plaintiff against the defendants (wife and others) at this stage”. Aggrieved by the orders, Dr Dogra and other petitioners preferred the revisions. Justice Chauhan asserted: “The wife knew her conjugal duties towards her husband. Consequently, if the wife has consented to matrimonial sex and created sexual relations with her own husband, it does not mean that she has consented to conceive a child. It is the free will of the wife to give birth to a child or not…
“The wife is the best judge and is to see whether she wants to continue the pregnancy or to get it aborted… Keeping in view the legal position, it is held that no express or implied consent of the husband is required for getting the pregnancy terminated… “A woman is not a machine in which raw material is put and a finished product comes out. She should be mentally prepared to conceive, continue the same and give birth to a child. The unwanted pregnancy would naturally affect the mental health of the pregnant woman…” Imposing costs of Rs 50,000 on the husband, Justice Chauhan concluded: “It is held that the act of the medical practitioners Dr Dogra and Dr Grewal was legal and justified.”