Amid opposition from women’s groups, the Union Cabinet in the year 2012 had approved a proposal making rape a gender-neutral offence, under which the word ‘rape’ would be replaced by the phrase ‘sexual assault’.
Other proposals, including making ‘stalking’ and ‘acid attacks’ specific offences, raising age of consent for sex from 16 to 18 years, preventing rape accused from questioning the character of victims and harsher punishment for custodial rape also got the Cabinet’s nod.
All these provisions were part of a draft proposal, which sought amendments in Indian Penal Code (IPC), CrPC and Indian Evidence Act. An official then said,
Amendment bills will be brought in Parliament during the forthcoming monsoon session next month.
Mumbai Advocate Flavia Agnes then said,
I oppose proposal to make rape laws gender-neutral. We had opposed it when the government made child rape laws gender-neutral. After the feminist wave of the 1980s, many countries in the West made rape laws gender-neutral. But, they have realized these laws are harming women more than men.
There is physicality in the definition of rape, there is use of power and the victim has a stigma attached to her. If made gender-neutral, rape laws will not have the deterrence value and it will make it more complicated for judges in court.
The consequences of rape for a woman are far-reaching. She has to battle social stigma, social mindset. While fixing marriages, nobody asks a man if he is a virgin.
Delhi advocate Vrinda Grover then said:
Why should rape laws be gender-neutral? That would be making a mockery of what is actually happening in the country. There are no instances of women raping men.
I don’t think men are facing serious sexual violence as women. Consider the brutality and intensity of sexual violence against women. Hope the home minister does not put out a bill that delays or obfuscates discussions on the issue.
In 2012, the offence was defined under section 375 of the IPC, which dealt with a crime where a man is said to commit ‘rape’ in case he has sexual intercourse with a woman against her will.
Speaking about the Cabinet’s decision, the then women and child development (WCD) minister Krishna Tirath said it had also been decided by the Cabinet that certain sections of CrPC or IPC, which define minors as below 16 years, would be amended and a uniform age bar of below 18 years, would be set as the legal age for minors.
The above article has been republished from TOI dated July 20, 2012