Rape law biased against men?
Solution does not lie in dismissing the law or taking away its teeth
Rajesh Ahire, brother of Kamlesh Ahire, a 21-year-old gymnast falsely accused of rape by an infatuated teenager, who served nine days in jail, is still under medication and counselling for trauma. He can answer no questions, trembles with fear at the memory, and pleads to be left alone. His brothers good looks, muscular physique and Olympic ambitions, he says have changed his close-knit lower middle class family forever.
On April 3, 2006, Sunil More was convicted of the rape of a middle class college student and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Twenty-seven witnesses, identities closely guarded and well protected by a police force under severe media and public scrutiny, undoubtedly contributed to this conviction. On October 19, 2005, barely a few months after the Marine Drive rape case, a 15-year-old ragpicker was raped, also by a police constable, Chandrakant Pawar, also in Mumbai. Soon forgotten by the media, justice is yet to be done in the second case.
Given the circumstances, is the Supreme Court ruling placing the womans word in a case of rape as truth beyond the pale of medical evidence a loose cannon against the innocent, or an overdue sword against the guilty? Some fear misuse of the law just as, they claim, IPC 498a, has been misused. Save India Family Foundation, launched from Silicon Valley and with a large subscription of harassed techies, petitions against 498a and hails the July 20, 2005, Supreme Court Bench decision that warns against legal terrorism. Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice HK Sema said “Dowry law is a shield, not an assassins weaponâ€¦. The court would like to go on record that for noting that educated women are approaching the courts for divorce and resorting to proceedings against in-laws under section 498a IPC, implicating not only the husbands but also their family members whether in India or abroad. This is nothing but misuse of the beneficial provision intended to save the women from unscrupulous husbands.”
Bikram Jeet Batra, legal officer of Amnesty International India, reacting to the judgement observed “The solution does not lie in dismissing the law or taking away its teeth completely by making it compoundable and bailable,” and professed Amnestys support for the law.
According to the National Bureau of Crime statistics, 58,121 cases were booked under 498a in 2005, an increase of 14% over the previous year. Compare that to the same reports 1,54,333 cases of crime against women for the same period. According to the State Crime Records Bureau, “One rape occurs in the state every six hours.” Given the statistics, the ruling must surely be welcomed?
Veena Gowda, womens right activist and lawyer dismisses concerns. “Every law is abused to an extent, 498A is highlighted because it aids women. And if you look at the statistics of how many women die within marriages, are beaten up, sexually abused, and compare that to the number of 498A cases filed, youll find it is underused, not misused.” What this ruling offers women in a world where a report is often treated with disbelief, she says, is an assurance that shoddy medical examinations and the absurd excuse of lack of witnesses-rapes dont occur in public view, but in private spaces-will no longer delay or banish justice.
Harish Sadani, of Men Against Violence, who worked closely with Kamlesh, is glad for the justice the Supreme Court ruling will bring to abused women, after all MAVA was founded on the premise of 498 A, to include men in the solution. “But even gender-sensitive lawyers are getting sceptical of 498A now and advise male clients to apply for anticipatory bail,” he points out. “498A has been misused. It is essential to end the character assassination that a woman who cries rape is subjected to, but it is also necessary to guard against misuse of the law. It is not desirable to depend solely on her views,” he warns.
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