7 Legal Rights Every Woman In India Has And Must Be Aware Of

The legal system of India provides few legal rights which are exclusive to the women in the country. Here are 7 such laws you must be aware of.

The legal system of India provides few legal rights which are exclusive to the women in the country. Here are 7 such laws you must be aware of. 

‘’You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women”
– Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Indian society is a labyrinth of cultures, customs, traditions and complexities. Perhaps the most amazing puzzle in India, even today, is the way we treat our women. We have made woman the custodian of family and community honour; she is seen as the guardians our heritage and traditions; she is the harbinger of life and idolised as symbols of prosperity, knowledge, and strength. Ironically, it is the same woman who has been the subject of patriarchal discrimination, domination and violence in India for ages.

To mitigate the maimed condition of women in Indian society, we have seen several attempts to empower her, being designed and implemented over decades. One of the most significant ways of empowering women has been to give, and strengthen, her constitutional and fundamental rights through legislation. Laws and rules definitely help to keep a check on the horrendous acts of crime committed against women; but a closer assessment of women’s condition in the country will reveal that decades of legislation has not been able to effectively alter the status of women’s empowerment on ground. Having laws in not sufficient, unless the ones for whom they are made are aware of these laws and know how to use them effectively. Here in lies the problem of legal empowerment of women. Most women in India are unaware of their legal rights. This lack of awareness makes women easy victims of violation of fundamental and legal rights.

Given the times that we are living in, here is a brief overview of some important legal rights and recommendations for women that everyone must be aware of.

Right to Free Legal Aid

Often when a woman goes to the police station unaided by a lawyer to get her statement recorded, she runs the risk of being misquoted, ignored, humiliated and denied permission to register her complaint. She should be aware of the fact that she has a right to get the legal aid and that she should demand for it. According to a Delhi High Court ruling, whenever a rape is reported, the senior house officer has to bring this to the notice of the Delhi Legal Services Authority. The legal body then arranges for a lawyer for the victim.

Right to Privacy while recording statement

Under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a woman who has been raped can record her statement before the district magistrate when the case is under trial, and no one else needs to be present. Alternatively, she can record the statement with only one police officer and woman constable in a convenient place that is not crowded and does not provide any possibility of the statement being overheard by a fourth person. The cops have to, by law, upkeep the woman’s right to privacy. It’s important for the person to feel comfortable and not be under any kind of stress while narrating the incident.

Right to register complaint at any time

 The police cannot refuse to register an FIR even if a considerable period of time has elapsed since the incident of rape or molestation took place. There are many reasons as to why a woman would postpone going to the police to lodge a complaint.Rape is a horrifying incident for any woman, so it’s natural for her to go into shock and not want to report it immediately. She may also fear for her safety and the reputation and dignity of her family. Taking these into consideration the Supreme Court has ruled that a woman can report a case of sexual crime against her even after considerable time has passed between the actual occurrence of the event and the time of registering the complaint.

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Right to no arrest and not being called to the police station for interrogation

There have been several instances of women being harassed by policemen in the wee hours. But the Supreme Court clearly rules against this, stating that women arrested after sunset and before sunrise.Women have the right of being present in the police station only during the daytime. Even if there is a woman constable accompanying the officers, the police can’t arrest a woman at night. In case the woman has committed a serious crime, the police have to get it in writing from the magistrate explaining why the arrest is necessary during the night. Also, Women cannot be called to the police station for interrogation under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This law provides Indian women the right of not being physically present at the police station for interrogation.

Right to virtual complaints and Zero FIR

According to the guidelines issued by the Delhi Police, a woman has the privilege of lodging a complaint via email or registered post. If, for some reason, a woman can’t go to the police station, she can send a written complaint through an email or registered post addressed to a senior police officer of the level of Deputy Commissioner or Commissioner of Police.Additionally, a rape victim can register her police complaint from any police station under the Zero FIR ruling by Supreme Court. No police station can deny registering the FIR on the pretext that it doesn’t come under their area.

Right to Confidentiality

Under no circumstances can the identity of a rape victim be revealed. Neither the police nor media can make known the name of the victim in public. Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code makes the disclosure of a victim’s identity a punishable offense. Printing or publishing the name or any matter which may make known the identity of a woman against whom an offense has been committed is punishable.

Right to no sexual harassment

With more women participating actively in the public sphere, this is one of the most relevant laws to be aware of. It is the duty of every employer to create a Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee within the organization for complaints. According to a guideline issued by the Supreme Court, it is mandatory for all firms, public and private, to set up these committees to resolve matters of sexual harassment. It is also necessary that the committee be headed by a woman and comprise of 50% women, as members. Also, one of the members should be from a women’s welfare group.

Apart from these existing legal rights, there are some important recommendations, which have come up in the recent years, aimed to strengthen the legal entitlements of women:

  1. Rape does not tantamount to loss honour for a woman or her community: The Justice Verma Committee which was formed in the aftermath of the Delhi Rape case to recommend amendments to criminal laws dealing with crime against women, suggested that rape is not be treated as a matter of dishonour against the victimised woman or her community. The fear of shame and danger of loss of honour often prevents women from bringing their offenders to book. Trying to alleviate these fears, the report states “we believe that there is no danger and no shame or loss of honour in a victim seeking redressal by filing complaints and must in fact exercise,  consistent with fundamental rights of women, the right to file complaints and bring offenders to book. We also think that it is the duty of the State to encourage such a climate and also to make available such resources that enable them to file such complaints.”
  2. Consent must be real and not just absence of violence: The 84th Law Commission report correctly states that violence is not a mandatory form of extracting consent from a victim of sexual assault. Consent to any sexual act has to be real. If the consent is obtained after giving the woman a threat of spreading false and scandalous rumours about her character or destruction of her property or injury to her children or parents or by holding out other threats of injury to her person, reputation or property, that consent will not count as ‘consent’.
  3. Equality and sanctity of dignity in marital relationships: The Justice Verma report recommends that a marital relationship between the victim and the perpetrator is not a valid defence against the crimes of rape or sexual violation. The relationship between the accused and the complainant is not relevant to the inquiry into whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity; the fact that the accused and victim are married or in another intimate relationship may not be regarded as a mitigating factor justifying lower sentences for rape. As a primary recommendation, the report also suggests that all marriages in India (irrespective of the personal laws under which such marriages are solemnised) should mandatorily be registered in the presence of a magistrate. The magistrate will ensure that the marriage has been solemnised without any demand for dowry having been made and that it has taken place with the full and free consent of both partners.
  4. Bill of Rights for Women: The Verma Committee recommended a separate Bill of Rights for women that entitles a woman to a life of dignity and security and ensures that a woman shall have the right to have complete sexual autonomy with respect to her relationships.
  5. Expanding the definition of sexual offense against women: The Verma Committee suggests that the definition of sexual assault on women should expand beyond rape. Along with rape, it should also include any other forms of assault that challenge women’s bodily integrity. There should be a criminal prohibition of other, non-penetrative forms of sexual assault, which currently is not found in the IPC, aside from the inappropriate references to ‘outraging the modesty’ of women in Sections 354 and 509.The Committee also cautions that talking about sexual offence in a more generic way should not in any way dilute the political and social commitment to respecting, protecting and promoting women’s right to integrity, agency and autonomy.

Cover image via Shutterstock


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