Monday, May 27, 2013

Women using rape laws for vengeance…

Before the women folk jump at me, let me clarify that this is not a statement I have made! It’s a statement credited to the High Court of Delhi. The story was carried on the front page of TOI’s Sunday edition. I must add though that I have often been worried about this aspect of rape for long. I have always believed that our laws must be strong, but they must also be just. Many times, our laws swing like a pendulum, from one extreme to the other; and in their quest to do justice to one set of people, they hugely wrong the other set.

Observing that many women, after consensual sex, accuse their boyfriends of rape if the relationship ends, the HC said”. No where was this more evident than in the bizarre rape charges filed by a wannabe “star” Preeti Jain against successful film director Madhur Bhandarkar. If the woman was to be believed, she was raped “16 times between 1999 and 2004” by Madhur over a 3 year period of time. How is this possible? She was not his wife, or living with him, that he could just grab her and rape her every time he felt like doing so. She must have voluntarily come to meet him and indulged in whatever they did consensually. It’s possible that Madhur may have given her the lure of a role in a film, and she could well accuse him of cheating or something, but how could she accuse him of rape? Yet, the woman must have thought that cheating and all are difficult to prove. Besides, the punishment is nothing more than a rap on the knuckles. What better way to “fix” him that to file rape charges?

This is far more common an occurance in our country that we would like to believe. An exact similar statement was made recently by Neeraj Kumar, Delhi’s embattled Police Commissioner to the Indian Express. I wrote about him and his interview in my piece titled “Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar deserves a patient hearing….” on 12th May this year. Here’s his specific observation ““If you are in a live-in relationship, the sexual relationship you are having is of a consensual nature. If the man says at some stage that I do not intend to marry you, the woman then says, OK I will register a rape case against you. Then she says she has been raped continuously for three years. A large number of cases fall within this category”. Did you find anything wrong in this? How many women will come forward and accept this reality?

It’s a truth that women in our country are a battered lot. With the kind of mindset our men have, which is pretty much medieval, it’s not surprising. We see this happening all around us. We see our maid being mistreated by her drunk husband. And even in higher-rung society, we see men conducting themselves as if they were superior to women. This is the reason many of us get so upset and angry when a crime against a woman is reported. This is also why a police chief is derided for making some frank statements. But we have to be clear here. There are battered women, and there are vengeful women. The law unfortunately is so stupid that it gives the vengeful types a bazooka in their hands to shoot anyone and everyone.

This is not the first time we have seen the handiwork of such vengeful. Nor is the Delhi HC the first court to make such an observation against women. Even the Supreme Court has made a similar observation on section 498(A) of the Indian Penal code, which deals with dowry harassment cases. Here’s what I wrote in my piece of Dec 20th, 2012 titled “Section 498(A) of the Indian penal code was designed to protect women from dowry harassment. It was designed poorly, maybe under pressure of some lobby groups. As a result, a man or his family can be arrested merely on the complaint of a woman. In August 2010, Justices Dalveer Bhandari and K S Radhakrishnan of the SC expressed concern at the rise in number of complaints under Section 498A, "We come across a large number of such complaints which are not even bona fide and are filed with oblique motives." Can anyone deny the truth of this observation of the Supreme Court? The scourge of rapes is bad enough. We don’t also want the scourge of the vengeful women.

The problem in our country is that our laws swing from one end to the other like a pendulum. Our lobbyists, our civil society activists, our society itself, are all responsible for this. Take the recent Anna agitation against corruption. Now corruption is a huge problem in India. But not once during that entire episode (spanning more than a year), did we hear a single voice of reason and moderation. Anna wanted the corrupt to be hanged. Hanged? For god’s sakes, was he out of his mind? But still, the hordes swung to his beats. And our media, instead of being the correcting force against such excesses, freely indulged in sensationalizing the issue. It forced me to write a piece called “License Raj, Police Raj….now get ready for the draconian Lokpal Raj….” on the 13th of December, 2011. Thank god, Parliament didn’t pass that kind of a law. Thank god, media lost interest in Anna.

Or take the sexual harassment law recently passed. As per the law, only men can sexually harass women. Apparently, its unacceptable only when men use four letter words. What kind of archaic mindsets do the drafters of such a law have? Have they worked in today’s world, where the casting couch is as commonly deployed for men as it is for women? Or where women are as free with language as their male counterparts?

The real truth is that in trying to bring justice to battered women, we must not end up creating a battalion of battered men. Laws cannot be written with a vengeful mindset. In reversing an evil, an opposite evil cannot be committed. And lets not forget the most fundamental of all laws of justice: a man is innocent until proven guilty. Who remembers Madhur Bhandarkar’s acquittal? Very few. How many remember him as a rapist? Almost everyone. This is what motivates a few to do what they do….

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