Friday, March 23, 2007

Outraging the modesty of a woman

That's how Lord Maculay's baby, the Indian Penal Code, describes rape. An op-ed piece in today's Indian Express argues that the code is vague, especially when it comes to definitions of molestation, child abuse, and criminalizing attempted rape. It's hardly surprising just how Neanderthal the law's attitude is. Rape is quite often not taken seriously enough, women continue to be stigmatized and victimized and blamed, offenders are let off easily and so on.
The recent Supreme Court judgment in the Ramkripal case by Justices Ajit Pasayat and S.H. Kapadia has brought clarity to section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 354 deals with assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty in circumstances in which the offender intends to so do or knows that it is likely that his actions will have the same result, but it does not define what constitutes a woman’s modesty.

Now Ramkripal has filled that void. The Supreme Court has said that “the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex” and that “the act of pulling a woman, removing her saree, coupled with a request for sexual intercourse... would be an outrage of the modesty of the woman; and the knowledge that modesty is likely to be outraged, is sufficient to constitute the offence.”

But the problem is that the definition of molestation makes an assault on a woman culpable only if it is done with the intention of outraging her modesty. Redressal has been problematic in the absence of a liberal and expansive definition of ‘modesty’ and ‘intention of outraging’, courts have displayed a patriarchal mindset in dealing with the victim.

That brings us to the offence of rape defined in section 375, IPC. Rape is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine. The offence is constituted only when ‘penetration’ is present.


georgettemn said...

I always find newspaper articles so confusing here in India. But if I am reading it right, they are saying that there are now laws which define "molestation" and "rape" as being two different things? What could be the purpose of this except to give sex offenders an easier time when they're caught?

They already have the "Eve teasing" laws which apply to the milder forms of sexual harassment, so I can't understand the reasoning for defining rape as anything less than it is, i.e. physical assault with sexual intention.

Where are the feminists when they're really needed?

Gashwin said...

I think part of the problem the column was tackling was that it is called rape only if there is actual penetration involved! Anything short of that, regardless of intention, gets much lighter sentences.

Indian English newspapers can be a lot of fun, yes :)