This law has barely clocked a year. We have not seen how it has worked and we don’t have enough data yet to review the law. Is the law harsh, or is it being abused or misused, we don’t know. Really, a review of a legislation can’t take place because one high-profile upper-class man gets arrested for rape. That’s not, to my mind, a rationale for research, academic scholarship or for any legal review of the case. The motivations for everybody suddenly asking this question and even using totally misplaced and misconceived words like ‘draconian’ is coming from the fact that the law has come too close to home now. As long as it was the people living on the fringes of society, the slum-dwellers, migrant workers, domestic helps, we couldn’t care less. In fact, if anybody was objecting to the death penalty for rape, it was in fact the women’s groups.
I have always maintained that law is a very small answer to the bigger problem of sexual violence that we have. There are multiple other engagements we need to develop, including conversations in schools, society, everywhere. But why has the panic about this law set in suddenly? I’d like to know that when amendments were taking place and there was a robust public debate around them on a daily basis—unlike many others, this law was amended in full public glare—we were articulating clearly what we wanted in the law. The Verma Committee clearly put it down in writing. Most people applauded the change. In the last one year, sexual harassment charges have been levelled against people in very high offices. So suddenly, it appears that the law can be applied across the board. But that’s what laws are about, they are equal to all.
I think that after the Nirbhaya case, women are reaching out for justice. So far, this violence was taking place undercover, but now they have the strength to speak out. And so the panic has set in. The law has recognised sexual violence in all its forms. If you were to push your tongue or fingertips into a woman’s vagina without her consent, prior to the amendment in 2013, it would have amounted to outraging the modesty of a woman, a low-level crime, a bailable offence carrying a minor sentence. Everybody was fine with it. But now, women are saying, ‘It’s my body, my right, please don’t have anything to do with it without my consent’. Penetration by penis is a patriarchal framing of the law. If a man pushes his fingers or a bottle in, can it be any less traumatising than a penile penetration? So, why should there be a gradation? If we are looking at it from the perspective of women’s bodily integrity, this is the only framing of the law that you can have. The law has just broken down sexual offences into many parts and sentencing moves accordingly depending on the gravity of harm and crime—a rationale flowing through the Indian penal code. This is the norm also across the world. India has not done anything bizarre. Look at the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 in UK—it actually gives life imprisonment for any kind of penetrative sexual assault by any part of the body or object—whether it’s a penis, finger or a stick.
The sentence says seven years and in the case of Tarun Tejpal, it’s an aggravated rape because, by his own admission and by the statement of the complainant, he was in a position of dominance, trust and authority having known her father, as well as being her boss. These are statements of fact. The law has expanded the coercive circumstances to include these categories. Nothing dramatic has happened now, but everyone is getting very anxious. I’m very puzzled at the high level of anxiety from men in all professions. Is it really that men are doing this so rampantly that they are suddenly in panic mode? That they have been putting their body parts into women without their consent? In that case I have a word of advice to them: now this is the law, don’t do it, and if you do it, you will be arrested. And if the courts deem it fit, you’ll be punished. That’s a hard-won reality. The new law just clarified what consent meant. It said there has to be an unequivocal, voluntary agreement by word or gesture. In the case of Tarun Tejpal, the victim is saying to him, ‘Don’t do it, stop it’. How can that message not go across? If you continue to do it, then I’m sorry, it’s a crime.
The problem is, men don’t know how to hear no, they don’t think women have a right over their bodies. But women will now assert themselves. If that’s going to create trouble, let it. If there is confusion and chaos, then that is the way forward. To a saner kind of stability.
(As told to Priyadarshini Sen)
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The problem is: the feminists hold on the media is complete.
Tejpals fate must be an eye-opener to all males in the media, who bleat about feminist 'victims'.
And male must become more vociferous, in their protest against antimale laws.
@ Annirudha Sen, Jadavpur University ---
Mr. Sen, So, you better be as far away from the females because SHE (as referred by you) may lie !! Run......
"Men ... rampantly ... in panic mode ... they have been putting their body parts into women without their consent?"
If this stupid author had spoken to even one man, or read the law, before penning this idiocy, she would have known the panic is about putting body parts into women with their consent and still being jailed.
I agree with the author. But at some point, I would like some journalist to tell me what are the penalities under law to the accuser who it turns out makes a false accusation. That it what are the safeguards built into the law that prevents men from false accusations?
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