“Good new law, but some more points cry for attention” – 10 April 2013

With the Presidential assent to the Anti-Rape Bill, India has taken a major step forward in offering women a fair chance of getting justice in a usually unjust society whose members do not actually respect women as such. For, how can you explain so many cases of rape that keep taking place in our society day in and day out? But now, a ray of hope has emerged that there would be a legal, if not social, solace for women in distress. The new law which has broadened the definitions by including crimes earlier not defined, would really serve a major purpose of making the society march towards a greater social justice.

However, there are many women issues which we, as a society, are yet to address. One of those issues is as regards the treatment the average Indian woman gets in the family. The Anti-Rape Bill should have considered this aspect as well, and that would have made the new law more complete. Let me hasten to add here that I do not wish to decry everything in the average Indian family today particular in respect to women. Let me assert that the condition of average Indian woman is far better, far more liberated, than it ever was in modern times. The average Indian woman is able to go to school and college. She is able to make a career of her choice. She is able to restrict the number of children she should have. She is able to travel alone anywhere in the world. So, on the whole, the average Indian woman enjoys a much better life than she did a few decades ago.

Yet, let us also not overlook certain realities. For, those realities make the life of average Indian women a little unhappy, a lot less respectable. The new law possibly could not have included an ugly fact of life — rape in the marriage or family. I have written on this issue before, and will continue doing so until our society addresses this issue in a wholesome manner.

This rape in the marriage or family has multiple dimensions. There is a crassly physical dimension all right, but there also is a spiritual dimension (which the larger Indian society is yet to understand). This silent scourge in the family is a killer of the woman’s spirit. On countless occasions, millions of Indian women have to submit themselves to uncouth male domination in millions of home. And, at least until now, there is no legal redress to this near-criminal assault on womanhood under the official garb of marriage. This is the tragedy of our society.

Of course, this may be happening in many other human societies in the world, but that is not the subject this discourse which is limited only the Indian condition only. The lawmakers might have faced a genuine legal challenge if they had given some thought to the issue of rape in the marriage or family. The most critical of those challenges might have been the issue of proving the guilt. For, what kind of evidence could have been useful? Or, in other words, could a woman possibly stand up and lodge a complaint and eventually get ready to bomb the larger family’s happiness in the ultimate analysis? What kind of witness would she produce to prove her charge of rape in the marriage or family? And if physical rape is one issue, what about spiritual rape to which the woman is subjected in many, many families?

The lawmakers must have faced all these issues while formulating the provisions of the new Anti- Rape law, and then given up the thought, I am afraid. Let alone what happened in the case of the new law, there is no doubt that later if not sooner, our society will have to take a look at this dimension of the woman’s life and look for an answer in the form of a mature legal and social response to the silent scourge in the family.

For some who feel that law does not change mindsets I would like to state that awareness of what constitutes a crime is a great step towards societal change. For example, for those husbands who took beating their wives as their birthright get a shock when they are told that wife-beating is a crime under the DV Act. So the awareness of an Act does change behaviour at an individual level and women can take recourse to the law if they want. For the time being, the new law is most welcome as a major step forward in favour of a greater social justice as regards women.

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