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Big move forward

The unprecedented protests in the wake of the December 16 gang rape pushed the government into drafting amendments to the Indian Penal Code which redefined rape to include all forms of non-consensual penetrative sexual acts.

It was important at this juncture because now, for the first time, all forms of assault on women have been criminalised. Any violation of a woman’s bodily dignity has been brought under its ambit.

Previously unaddressed offences such as voyeurism, stalking, disrobing, stripping and parading of women and acid attacks are now punishable under the law. This was a substantive progress that was made soon after the December 16 case, but unfortunately, the implementation of the law has been abysmal as the old problem of impunity still exists.

There are still problems with accountability in the police force. The judiciary too needs to be sensitised to gender issues.

As far as the law itself is concerned, I believe that there is still scope for more. The law has no punitive provision for marital rape and this should be incorporated. I don’t care if the person raping a woman is her husband; he has no right to do so.

Also, I advocate lowering the age of consent for sexual intercourse of a woman from 18 years to 16 years as I think that in the process of punishing the guilty, we cannot take away the sexual autonomy of young people.

All said, I believe that there have been very positive changes in the system and in the law since the protests and the awareness generated by them. However, age-old attitudes towards the rights of a woman should change for these laws to really mean something.

Those who say that the anti-rape law is draconian are people who think that women are fair game and it is their right to harass and assault them. This mentality needs to change.

For all those who are filled with anxiety over what they call a woman-biased law, I want to make it clear that those filing a false complaint under this law are also punishable under Section 211 of the IPC — as is the case for any IPC provision.

What is, however, heartening is that women from all sections of society are standing up and not only saying “no” to sexual violence but also demanding justice. This is a big move forward.

Only, we need to see if the legal and political system in this country lives up to the promise of guaranteeing their right to dignity.