July 20, 2012
Amid opposition from women's groups, the Union Cabinet on Thursday 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 are part of a draft proposal, which seeks amendments in Indian Penal Code (IPC), CrPC and Indian Evidence Act. "Amendment bills will be brought in Parliament during the forthcoming monsoon session next month," said an official.
Mumbai Advocate Flavia Agnes 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 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".
At present, the offence is defined under section 375 of the IPC, which deals 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 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.