India Needs Gender-Neutral Laws


Our legal notions of sexual predation are outdated, writes Mahitha Owk

The Constitution of India states upholds equality before the law and says no one will be discriminated against based on gender, caste, religion, etc. But, rape laws in India favour women over men. As Meedini Kode, a student at Padala Rama Reddi Law College in Hyderabad points out, “The judicial system should recognise that men also can be raped and sexually assaulted.”

Section 375 of the India Penal Court define rape as, intercourse with a woman against her will, without her consent, by coercion, misrepresentation or fraud, when she has been intoxicated or duped or is of unsound mental health and in any case if she is under 18 years of age. So, by definition, the law holds that rapists are men and their victims are women. 

All over the world men are raped and sexually assaulted, whether in prison or the armed forces. An article in the European Journal of International Law points out that cases of sexual assault against men during war are rarely highlighted as with cases of violence against women. The article lists rape, enforced sterilization, genital mutilation, enforced nudity, enforced masturbation and dominance as instances of violence against men.

Rahul (not the victims real name) 25, who is pursuing his masters in information technology, is a victim of sexual assault, says he was too young to even realise what was happening to him when his neighbour would take him to a construction site and sexually assault him. “I was scared to even go out because I was scared to encounter him,” he recollects. As a kid, he thought that it was all very normal. Adds Kode, “Boys are the most vulnerable as they don’t even know what is happening with them.” 

Data on sexual crimes against men in India is sketchy. Most people don’t even realise the law is lopsided, because the media does not focus on the issues as much as it does on women. Sonali Sudhakar, a student in Hyderabad, says that she was not aware of the issue until very recently as she never heard or saw it discussed on TV channels while she’s constantly reminded of violence against women. 

“The very fact when we speak of gender equality, equal rights for both genders should be passed with the right steps and provisions without having to ignore the aspects that can exploit any of the genders,” she believes. 

For several reasons, male victims of sexual violence rarely admit to having been assaulted, let alone complain to the police or publicly demand justice. Firstly, due to the stereotype that men are stronger than women, their misplaced sense of masculinity makes them hesitant to ask for help. Secondly, our society looks down on a man who has been sexually assaulted, perceiving him as weak. Thirdly, they are scared that people might perceive them as homosexuals, who consent to sex with other men but suffer assault instead. Finally, they don’t know who to approach and what to do as laws are ambivalent.

Santosh Patel, a member of Purush Adhikar Sangh, an NGO working for the rights of men in Hyderabad, says that men know very little about their rights saying, “The public should fight to bring balance when it comes to rights for men.” He says that people complain about the ills of dowry and how women are tortured for money, but very few are aware of reverse dowry where men pay dowries to women. Mehr in Islamic law is a mandatory bride price that every groom must pay. 

The UK, the US, Canada, and Australia have made their criminal and civil laws gender-neutral. It’s time India did the same.


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