Gender Neutrality in Indian Law – Chirag Hablani, India

In India, only men can officially be said to rape, and only women can officially be raped. If you are a man raped by any other person, a woman raped by a woman, or a transgender person, you have at best inadequate option for redress or at worst no option for redress at all. The inequality in Indian rape laws has been termed “devoid of all social reality of sexual abuse in the country”.

Let’s look into this further.

According to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, the crimes of rape and sexual harassment were meant to be gender neutral, and the term “rape” was slated to be substituted with “sexual assault”. However, strong objections were raised by women’s groups (PTI, 2013; Reddy, 2013) and the Act ended up making the offences of rape and sexual harassment gender specific. Thus only male-on-female rape is acknowledged and clearly defined under law in India. The law also only protects women who have faced sexual harassment, voyeurism and stalking, but not men.

Language that isn’t gender neutral discriminates against men, and also against people of the third gender recognised in India. The lack of gender neutral legislation can negate what little progress has been made to help LGBT people live their lives in the mainstream. Laws against rape are particularly relevant because many LGBT people are forced into sex work. It becomes ambiguous whether a man can legally be raped by another man, or whether a transgender person can prosecute their rapist with these laws for recourse.

National media, feminists, lawyers and even doctors claim that a woman raping a man would be not just an anomaly, but quite impossible – a view that promotes prejudice and obsolete ideas about sex in the public consciousness.

Credit Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

Credit Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

Research, however, shows that a man is no less of a victim. NISVS (2010) found a higher prevalence of frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, activity limitations, and poor perception of their own physical and mental health in men who have been victims of rape, stalking, or physical abuse by an intimate partner.

Indian mentalities are tied in with the belief that men do not mind non-consensual sex, and that it really does not matter if men are raped because society does not judge them in the same way it does women (who may find themselves unable to marry after having been raped, for example). Certainly, the consequences of rape are important to reflect upon. But they cannot be more important than the Act itself – the aspect of non-consent must be specific to classify any sexual act as rape.

Even though male victims of domestic violence exist, we lack any accommodation, laws or facilities to support those men. We only seem to offer ridicule, if anything at all. I am not arguing that women in general are not kept subordinate to men in society; it would

be foolish to do so, especially for Indian society. But this issue highlights how flawed our constitution and perception of gender discrimination is. I present this case because the issues are real and demand to be tackled at many more levels than just acceptance. These laws are made unfairly and if you believe in gender equality or at the most basic level, justice, you should be rallying to see them changed. Society has far-from-ideal expectations from both women and men, so challenge gender norms and let us strive for an India with gender equality.

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