by Chloe Nurik
Rape in India has become an epidemic as data from the United Nations Panel indicates that in India, “every 60 minutes two women are raped.” [i] These acts of violence limit women’s autonomy and decrease their standard of living. Furthermore, it should be noted that much of this violence is committed against young women. Majlis, an advocacy group based in Mumbai, released a study examining 644 cases of rape in Mumbai, the results of which indicated that three-quarters of the victims were younger than 18.[ii] Additionally, rates of reporting are low, and rates of prosecution are even lower. In 2014, the crime records bureau indicated that “72 percent of accused rapists were acquitted and more than 85 percent of those who attempted to rape someone got away with it.” [iii] Rape is perpetuated in India by both cultural beliefs and gaps in the existing legal framework.
In India, there are many social structures in place that unduly burden victims of rape. For example, in their article “Testing Chastity, Evidencing Rape,” scholars Durba Mitra and Mrinal Satish evaluate medical jurisprudence textbooks in India which “undermine legal reforms in India” and “reinforce the notion that Indian women frequently bring false charges of rape.”[iv] This cultural bias and use of irrelevant evidence in court undermine women’s efforts to seek justice. Moreover, women who are raped are often re-victimized by the medical and legal community. Mitra and Satish explain: “Despite the fact that a woman’s virginity is irrelevant to the question of consent and should not be questioned in the medical assessment of the act of rape, the finger test and the medical assessment of the hymen remain common practice across India today.” [v] Thus, cultural beliefs in India limit the ability of rape victims to successfully maneuver the criminal justice system.
While there were a series of reforms to the existing rape law in 2013, these reforms were limited, and the legal framework is still deeply flawed. For example, the 2013 revision states: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” [vi] Thus, martial rape is not criminalized in India unless the couple is separated. Furthermore, rape law can only be enforced against men. Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy told CNN that in section 375 of the law, “the rape of a man or transgender is legal.” [vii] Although the 2013 reforms brought some significant changes, it still has a long way to go in protecting Indian women from sexual violence.
Cultural beliefs and biases inherent in the legal system perpetuate the crisis of rape in India. Victim blaming and patriarchal family dynamics limit the rights of women to achieve justice. Unnecessary court proceedings such as the tests to establish virginity demoralize women and compromise their faith in the criminal justice system. Instead of serving to aid victims, the criminal justice system humiliates them, thus preventing women from reporting crimes and allowing serial rapists to continue harming women. Additionally, rape laws that legalizes martial rape and violence against men and transgender individuals contributes to this growing problem in India. Activists and citizens alike need to put more pressure on government officials, and members of the legislature must put aside their personal agendas and cultural biases in order to protect women and encourage gender equality.
[i] Tripathy, Anannya. “Obstacle in Indian Law Reform Addressing Sexual Assault Of Women.” April 28, 2014. http://apps.americanbar.org/litigation/committees/access/articles/spring2014-0414-2014-obstacle-indian-law-reform-addressing-sexual-assault-women.html.
[ii] Arakali, Harichandan. “Rape In India: ‘Epidemic’ Of Sexual Violence Against Women And Children, Rape Laws Aren’t Enough, Experts Say.” October 27 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/rape-india-epidemic-sexual-violence-against-women-children-rape-laws-arent-enough-2157704).
[iv] Mitra, D., & Satish, M. (2014). Testing Chastity, Evidencing Rape. Economic & Political Weekly, 49(41), 51.
[v] Ibid., 54.
[vi] THE CRIMINAL LAW (AMENDMENT) BILL. 2013. http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Criminal%20Law,%202013/Criminal%20Law%20(A),%02013.pdf
[vii] Sarkar, Monica. “Marital rape: Why is it legal in India?” March 9, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/05/asia/marital-rape-india/.