India Enacts Tougher Rape Laws — But They’re Still Not Perfect

Over the past few months, India has been racked with high-profile gang rapes and deaths of little girls and women. From the three sisters under age 11 who were sexually assaulted and murdered to the student who was gang raped with a metal rod, which mangled her insides so badly it eventually killed her, the brutality of the country’s rape culture is horrific. One of the main problems with the rape culture in India has been placing the onus on the victim instead of the perpetrator — society as a whole, including police, had been blaming women for being out in public where they could be attacked, instead of punishing the men who hurt them.

The new laws aren’t perfect. First of all, as legal scholar Karuna Nundy for the BBC notes, the laws only protect the “modesty” of women, not boys, men or transgender folks. Additionally, marital rape is still legal (including if the wife is a minor ages 15 through 18) and homosexuality is still criminalized.

Alas, it is with cautious optimism that we welcome India’s new spate of laws criminalizing rape and other acts of violence which went into effect yesterday.

Here are some of the new laws in the Anti-Rape Law approved by President Pranab Mukherjee:

  • The definition of rape will be expanded. Victims will no longer have to physically fight their attacker in order to be considered assaulted. Presently, women who have been threatened with violence or death — including with weapons — and have not physically fought their attackers out of fear, are defined as having “consented.”
  • Acid attacks (which disfigure a woman’s face), disrobing, voyeurism (including the circulation of pictures without her consent), “eve-teasing“/sexual harassment, and stalking are all included as acts of violence against women. Committing an acid attack carries a minimum 10-year sentence.
  • Punishment for rape carries a minimum of 20 years in prison, maximum of a life term or even death sentence for repeat offenders.
  • Public servants, such as police, must now report sexual assault. Presently, rapes and sexual assaults have been reported and ignored by police (who could have been bribed or, also likely, have believed women and girls who have been attacked to have somehow deserved it). If public servants fail to report rapes now, they face mandatory jail time.
  • Victims of sexual assault and acid attacks are required to receive free medical care.

Additionally, the age of consent has been raised to 18 — but it is debatable about whether that will have a positive or negative affect on rape culture, because it may end result in policing consensual sex between teenagers. A writer for the UK’s Guardian suggested the age of consent bit was more about criminalizing premarital sex than it was fighting systemic violence against women.

However, overall I’m pleased to see these changes and I hope they serve as an improvement. Time will tell.

[Guardian UK]
[Times Of India]

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