Does our new rape law help women?

This is a response to Vrinda Grovers views on the new rape law as told to Priyadarshini Sen in the article “Look Before You Creep” published in Outlook Magazine.

I want to state upfront that I have a deep respect for Vrinda Grover and her work for human rights, and the article merely shares my view on the subject, which is not necessarily superior to hers, and her knowledge of the law and working with it to ensure human rights most certainly exceeds my own.

I had been bothered by the direction the Delhi Rape case protests were taking when they started demanding for a new law. To me, it seemed the easiest way out of the social slap we had faced, by shrugging off our role and shoving it onto the government’s shoulders. The Delhi Gang Rape was illegal under existing laws, including death penalty for rapists when the victim died, and murder got added to the charges.

I understood this to be an unhealthy avoidance of social responsibility and the need to engage in social reform – which is where the problem lies. The idea that a few people can get drunk and think it will be good fun to pick up a girl to rape. The rest went downhill from there, but that is the crux of the issue we see echoed in almost every urban gang rape that involves random pick up of victims. There was an opportunity for discussing the role of alcohol or drugs in lowering inhibitions and making criminals more likely to act on criminal intent than the natural caution of sobriety.

Alcohol lowering inhibitions is a proven fact and alcohol is often a factor in all kinds of violence from brawls and murders to rape and domestic violence. Additionally, alcohol lowers the ability to be aware when an action goes too far. I personally know a woman who masturbated hard enough to injure herself when drunk. Countless cases of financial exploitation and road accidents can be traced to alcohol, yet there is an inexplicable inability to discuss this subject openly and find out what is enjoyment and what poses too much risk to the public at large.

There was potential to discuss how we run our lives when the bus could be traced because of the bribe records of police. The lack of oversight in investigation of people employed in services catering to schools. But all this doesn’t sell as well as the idea of rape. Rape tickles the consumer mind. Rape occupies space in TV debates far more than any other crime for the same reason old Hindi films had rape scenes. We may protest all we like, but rape is sex. It is non-consensual sex, activists may protest that it isn’t sex at all, but for the mind, the perception is one of sex, and there is immediate interest.

Any discussion about the vulnerability of women who may be leaving themselves open to assault got shouted down as victim blaming. We like our scantily dressed eye candy. Protect them in other ways. Don’t make them reluctant to entertain us. No one is disputing that a rapist is wrong, but to peddle tips on smart dressing in one segment of media and say clothes never invite rape is a bit absurd, because there is no explanation on the intervening pages on why a business suit conveys professionalism to all, but bare skin does not convey sexual invitation to all. And if bare skin is not sexual, then why we no longer see shirtless men as decent company?

The dialogue was carefully herded into the TRP maker – SEX (in this case, not consensual and injurious and murderous), while anything that might actually make girls less easy to exploit got ignored or shouted down with some regressive label. One would almost believe that parents who caution daughters to come home on time or wear clothes that cover body are looking to enslave them worse than random strangers who apparently are more interested in their safety and will never harm. What is achieved by isolating women from protective parents in public perception? It makes sense to criticize parents for LIMITING women, but where was any sense of parents as potential support?

That got derailed because to put it bluntly, fighting for women’s rights and all was fine, no one wanted to risk criticism of habits and defaults they enjoy.

The law can only punish culprits after a crime. It cannot change what people choose to do.

We got a law that upped the punishment for rape, as well as broadened the definition to rape in a grand promise to more and more people – when the fundamental problem was that people who were raped as per the old definitions and punishments weren’t getting justice already in a country with one rape in seven minutes, but not one rape judgment. Worse, our law believes a woman’s accusations by default and now we have expanded them to cases that are impossible to prove, because there won’t be DNA evidence or injury, and the victim may appear perfectly normal till she files a case two weeks later.

Vrinda Grover says she is not able to understand the anxiety men face.

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.

Well, consider the roles reversed, and if men were able to claim all sex as consensual and their word were accepted as the truth unless rape could be proved? Proving rape is still possible. How do you prove an absence? How do you prove God doesn’t exist, if there being no proof could simply mean that it hadn’t been found yet? How do you prove a rape did not happen if all it would mean is that there was no injury or evidence found, but not that you were innocent? Why wouldn’t men be anxious? Any sane man should be terrified of these laws. In essence, the law leaves no way for the rape accused to prove himself innocent short of proving that he wasn’t at the place at all.

These laws are based on a presumption that women would never lie about being raped. But is it always true? I am not such a legal expert or a major activist, but I know tons of women who are insecure enough to claim that they refused a consensual encounter rather than be seen as someone who indulged in immoral behavior. There are still more women who are modern and do not see rape as their shame, but now have the perfect weapon to attack a man they have an agenda against. Any private time without witnesses or cameras can be claimed as a rape that did not leave any sperm or injury. There are as many women who seek favor from powerful men as there are powerful men exploiting women – particularly in urban society, where a sexually forward woman is no longer a stigma. What is to prevent a woman rebuffed from accusing the man of rape out of malice? Where is the line? An over aggressive lover who mistakes necking for wanting to take things further? And really, can all this be fixed by law?

I am not saying any of this happened in the Tejpal case,, which I believe is too high priority and warped by political agendas to look at to evaluate something like this. I am speaking of a law that is absurd. In pretending to help victims of rape, it has, in effect created so much ambiguity and clutter, that the indisputable rapes and injuries and desperate circumstances now have to share already scarce resources of justice with cases that are suffering from enough ambiguity to turn the whole public view on rape as a fuss made by women.

On the other hand, it is perfectly legal to marry a sixteen year old and rape her every night onwards for the rest of her life.That is how freaking lost our “women’s rights” are in terms of gravity of crime and priorities in reform.

I fail to see how this helps women at large.

In our idealistic chase of the perfect laws where the slightest wrongs to women meet perfect justice, we have lost complete touch with an imperfect world still struggling to get justice for ghastly crimes that suffer decades long cases where victims are forced to not forget their ordeal because they could be cross examined or questioned at any point.

Nor is it unclear why a woman grabbing at a man’s crotch isn’t engaging in rape then. Are we saying that men are always asking for it and women never have sex they regret later? Are we really peddling the view that women never make bad choices on sex that they try to cover up or deny later? Why are we still catering to the “Sati Savitri” image of the woman? Why is this patriarchal, patronizing and insulting view of women being peddled by those fighting for their rights?

Vidyut

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut 

  1 comment for “Does our new rape law help women?

  1. raman
    March 12, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    The concerns raised are important and cannot be brushed off. We do need to be less tolerant towards rapists, but we must remember that our executive is more or less somewhere between worthless trash to lapdogs of legislative feudal lords. That is the real problem.
    If the rape cases are followed with the zeal any high profile case is followed and neutrality of executive is assured, there will not be any problem at all. But where the highest court raises questions over independence of an executive body like CBI, there is strong possibility of misuse of such law.
    This happens to be the case with Tarun Tejpal. Though what he did was not morally correct and might be misdemeanor or worse, the police which drags its feet in illegal mining case has suddenly become hyperactive and is creating new English just for his case (threatening the victim by apologizing, lol) – just like a lapdog of BJP who can finally take revenge on him.

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