Written by Karam Pratap Singh
Before you start reading, ask yourself a question, have you ever heard of any incident of sexual harassment or violence against a man perpetrated by a woman? If no, then think for a moment, can a man be sexually abused at a workplace where his boss is a lady or maybe a male himself?
Now, are there any laws to deal with such cases? No!
The question is not whether it has happened before or how often, the question is whether it can? And if it can then the law must provide some remedy to the victims.
So, where’s the problem? The problem is that many people believe – in India, most of them – that sexual harassment is limited only to women. Rape has been perceived as an explicitly patriarchal crime, directly stemming from the grotesque abuse of male power and privilege. This perception should change for good now. Just like social stigma is attached to female rape in which a victim is seen as a culprit-herself by the Society (though things are changing now), the same stigma works against men too, so, coupled with absence of law, cases are never even reported. We need to understand that rape laws need to be gender neutral, like many other laws today.
Plenty of laws exist in India to protect women against acts of sexual harassment or violence. The Indian Penal Code, 1980; the IT Act, 2000; the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1987; the Sexual Harassment of women at workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 etc. are few legislations that provide for such laws. After Nirbhaya in 2013, the rape laws for women were made more stringent even prescribing for capital punishment. But, are there any for men? Though Nirbhaya prompted the government to think of gender-neutral rape laws by substituting the word sexual-assault” for “rape” through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, but, this was revered in the Act.
Now let’s get out of the male-female debate, think about LGBT (See Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India on Section 377 of IPC) and the third gender (See National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India which is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India, which declared transgender people to be a ‘third gender’, affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the Constitution of India will be equally applicable to transgender people, and gave them the right to self-identification of their gender as male, female or third-gender.), should laws not be rethought to include them as well?
One great step in this direction has been taken by the University Grants Commission that notified on May 2, 2016 / VAISAKHA 12, 1938 (the notification reads), the UGC (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) which says that it is the responsibility of Higher Educational Institutions to “act decisively against all gender-based violence perpetrated against employees and students of all sexes recognizing that primarily women employees and students and some male students and students of the third gender are vulnerable to many forms of sexual harassment and humiliation and exploitation”
Petitions have been filed by different civil society bodies challenging the non-neutral rape and sexual harassment laws on grounds of Art. 14 and Art. 21, inter alia. We are yet to see the future of this debate. Some people confuse this topic to be against the feminist movement, but, that’s not the case, such people need to understand that both men, women and also the other genders are equal. It’s time to perceive rape laws on a gender-neutral footing than as two opposing set of ideas.
It is also interesting to note here that gender neutral laws have found acceptance in more than 70 countries around the world including, (in no particular order) the U.K., Denmark, Australia, U.S., etc. It’s time to begin the discussion now.