Do Indian Laws Protect Women?

Do Indian laws protect women? Are they gender sensitive? So I thought, till a quick reading of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 quickly changed my opinion.

Guest Blogger Sunil Oberoi is a former IAS officer. While in service, he has been involved with gender and women’s issues as a trainer and has done extensive work on gender in the civil services. He is now a freelance consultant to the private sector, and also provide inputs on gender issues, disaster management and good governance to various training institutions in India and abroad.

Do Indian laws protect women? Are they gender sensitive? So I thought, till a quick reading of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 quickly changed my opinion. Here’s why:

Under Section 375, it is not rape if a man has sexual intercourse with a girl over 16, if it is with her consent, even though at 16, a girl is defined as a minor (in Manipur the age of the girl is 14); it is also not rape if a man forces himself upon his wife if she is 15 years or more of age (in Manipur the age, believe it or not, is 13).

Further, it is not rape if penetration does not take place, that is, the woman (or the girl-child if one goes by this Section) may be mauled, manhandled or be subjected to other indignities, but that will not constitute rape.

This is not all, the punishment for rape under Section 376 is imprisonment for a minimum of 7 years, extendable up to life, but if the woman raped is the offender’s own wife, not under 12 years of age, the punishment is only up to two years imprisonment! Obviously our lawmakers have neither heard of marital rape, nor of sex with minors being extremely offensive, wife or no wife.

Under Section 376 A, Intercourse by a man with his wife during separation – Whoever has sexual intercourse with his wife, who is living separately from him under a decree of separation or under any custom or usage without her consent shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine. Compare this with the punishment for theft, which carries imprisonment up to three years (Section 379)!

Here’s more: the definition of adultery says that sexual intercourse with another man’s wife is adultery, if such sexual intercourse takes place without the consent or connivance of the husband (Section 497)! The woman, then, is the property of the husband. If this is not enough, under Section 27, a wife, clerk and servant are mentioned in the same breath, and I quote, “When property is in the possession of a person’s wife, clerk or servant, on account of that person, it is in that person’s possession within the meaning of this Code.”

Finally the much maligned Section 498 A, against which men have put up more material on the Internet than one would care to read- this Section deals with husbands or relatives of husbands subjecting wives to cruelty, and the punishment for such cruelty, lo and behold, is imprisonment up to three years, the same as punishment for theft!

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I’ll not even go into the definitions of cruelty under this Section. I will only enlighten you with the fact that in the opinion of our honorable judiciary, a woman can hardly be subjected to cruelty in the long run. I quote from the case of Krishan Lal v Union of India, 1994 CrLJ 3472: “With the passage of time after marriage and birth of children, there are remote chances of treating a married woman with cruelty by her husband or his relatives…”

Finally, if a man intends to ‘outrage the modesty of a woman’ (Section 509), the punishment is imprisonment up to only one year. Let me remind you, that if I steal as much as a light bulb from you, I might cool my heels in prison for three years!

If you are not already dumbstruck, I’ll touch upon the definitions of cruelty under Section 498A, and the might of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and other such laws at a later date.


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