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All sexual crimes short of rape fall under the ambit of ‘Outraging the modesty of a woman’, under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This particular law makes a lot of presumptions about how a woman is expected to behave, and has misogyny stamped all over it. It is not unusual for a court to examine the ‘character’ of a victim during trial in cases involving sexual assaults.
Modesty of the victim in a sexual assault is a non-issue when it comes to punishing the perpetrators; unfortunately, that is not a view shared by the Indian judiciary. This is a glaring oversight that needs to be corrected.
A woman of ‘loose’ character, who decides to file a complaint of sexual assault, may be laughed out of the police station, and her complaint may never see the light of day. Policemen are the first line of defense for the legal system, and many genuine cases get culled because of bad judgment by the Police. There have been several reported instances of women filing complaints of sexual assault being harassed by the policemen themselves.
During a rally in New Delhi protesting crimes against women
A comprehensive overhaul of the legal system, especially regarding the laws governing crimes against women, is the need of the hour. Women deserve justice, and decadent laws that set out moral guidelines for women need to be scrapped. All women should be treated equally – a prostitute has the same claim to law and justice as a Christian nun. Rooting out prejudice against women will require revamping the laws to reflect the modern times.
The police need to be more sensitive when it comes to dealing with issues of women’s rights. Today, the high-handedness of policemen has created a paradoxical situation where the wolf guards the sheep. Several state governments have taken pro-active steps in the right direction, including setting up all-women police stations and creating dedicated women’s cells to deal with sexual crimes. Of course, most of them do not realize that these are band-aid solutions – real change requires a fundamental shift in the way judiciary treats women.
Islamic republics have shown us first hand, what oppression of women can do to a society.
Policy makers in India should realize that you can’t hold women down without staying down with them.