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Outlaw laws

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NILANJANA S. ROY   |   Published 27.06.04, 12:00 AM

You’re halfway to becoming an adult when you stop believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. You’re an official grown-up when you stop believing that the laws of this country are fair, just and designed to protect the rights of all of its citizens equally, irrespective of gender.

Call me naïve, but I’d assumed that gender equality had been making some progress — even if in a manner where one small step for man equalled one giant leap for womankind.

But the recent Supreme Court verdict where their lordships declined to broaden the definition of rape has made me reconsider. This is what Sakshi, the NGO that filed a public interest litigation, had asked the courts to consider: “Given that modern feminist legal theory and jurisprudence look at rape as an experience of humiliation, degradation and violation rather than an outdated notion of penile/ vaginal penetration, whether the term ‘rape’ should today be understood to also include all forms of forcible penetration including penile/ oral penetration, penile/ anal penetration, object or finger/vaginal and object of finger/anal penetration.”

The learned justices of the court observed that such sweeping changes would “result in a good deal of chaos and confusion and will not be in the interest of the society”. So what, exactly, is in the interest of society?

A man who is raped can prosecute his assailant under the notorious “sodomy” section, which outlaws homosexuality. For a heterosexual man — often a boy — to be raped is to undergo a dual trauma. The act of rape reduces him to the “inferior” status of a woman; men who’ve been raped are seen as objects of derision, while women who’ve been raped are seen as vessels of shame. We should go beyond pity and derision to compassion and empathy in both cases, but we seldom do. A gay man’s dilemma is even worse: he must prosecute his assailant under a section that calls his own sexuality into question! He must deny his own nature before he can even begin to ask for redressal. If this is justice, it stinks.

Marital rape is not an offence. You can prosecute your husband — far more men than women are perpetrators of domestic violence—for assault and battery, but not for rape, unless you’re under 15. When you exchange garlands, what you’re doing in the eyes of Indian law-makers, if you’re female, is signing over all rights to use and abuse your body to your future partner. I’m sorry if this sounds terrible to those of us who have kind, decent partners, but the fact is that we are dependent on their kindness: in legal terms, they owe us none.

Outside marriage, what if you’re raped? It had better be a brutal act of penile penetration that leaves visible marks. If the rapist holds a gun to your head and leaves no bruises, you do have a case, technically, but your chances of winning are those of a snowball in hell. If your assailant decides to breach the gates of the body using objects, or chooses anal over vaginal sex, sorry: in the eyes of the law you’ve been roughed up, but you haven’t been raped. The laws of the land aren’t designed to protect women; but neither are they designed to protect men in a position of vulnerability.

A writer friend recently met a Bollywood baddie. Asked about his acting techniques, the Hindi film villain said, “During a rape scene, the villain must laugh.” Go through the laws and you understand why rapists in India find it all so hilarious.

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