Gender Neutral Laws in India
Authored by Shubhangi Sahu
Keywords: Gender Neutrality, Victim, Perpetrator, Transgender's Rights, Men's Rights.
The Constitution of India provides for social equality to all its citizens; however, it also provides for special privileges for those who belong to weaker strata of society. India has witnessed the dominance of patriarchy and treating women as second-class citizens, which made it very necessary to make special laws for women, but with the passage of time and advancement of society, some of the laws need to be changed and to become gender-neutral.
Considering men guilty until he proves his innocence, considering women weak, fragile are more prone to become victims, not recognizing difficulties and assault faced by transgender. Some of the assumptions we have to need to change, just the way women should be respected as the men, similarly, men should also be looked with a sense of understanding and sympathy, men don't need to be tough and strong, we as individuals need to change this notion prevalent in our societies.
The legal framework of every country is based on its societal structure, the laws, rules, and regulations are made to ensure equality and to protect minorities and weaker sections of the society. The Constitution of India provides for social equality to all its citizens; however, it also provides for special privileges for those who belong to weaker strata of society. Over of hundreds and thousands of years, India has witnessed the dominance of patriarchy and treating women as second-class citizens, which made it very necessary to make special laws for women to protect her and to bring women on an equal footing with men. Thus, there are many laws which provide for special treatment to women, but with the passage of time and advancement of society, some of the laws need to be changed and to become gender-neutral. In this article, we will look at some major laws made for women, the importance of the rights of men, transgenders, and the need for gender-neutral laws.
Women Specific Laws
Some of the legislations enacted by the legislature which specifically provide for the interests of women are The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1986, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Information Technology Act, 2000, The Sexual Harassment of Woman at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, The Prevention and Protection from Witch-Hunting, Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Some of the offences under IPC are also women-specific, such as Section 375 and 376.
Meaning of Gender Neutrality
First of all, it is essential to understand the meaning of gender neutrality based on which we can take out certain reasons why such laws should be implemented in India. The term has been given three dimensions; first neutrality with respects to the victim, second neutrality to the perpetrator and thirdly neutrality in wars. The third situation is not a normal or regular thus, here we will look at the initial two situations. [i]
Why laws should be Gender Neutral?
Traditionally the word 'victim' has been associated with the women and our lawmaker too interpreted it from the same perspective, but this needs to be changed as there have been men victims known as 'silent victims'. A survey conducted by Karnataka PUCL found out that human rights infringement and sexual assault is quite pervasive in the transgender community. [ii] Also, it has been found out that around 10.5% of men are the victims of rape and other 10.5% have been victim to the rape attempts. [iii]
Looking at the second dimension, it is quite obvious in Indian society that men are the perpetrator this notion is so much established that it even supersedes the basic law of 'innocent until proven guilty', men are always assumed to be guilty until proven innocent which causes a lot of trouble to men as there are many cases where men have been wrongly accused.[iv] The findings of a recent Economic Times-Synovate survey, of the 527 people queried across seven cities—Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune—19% said they have faced some kind of sexual harassment at office.
In Bangalore, 51% of the respondents had been sexually harassed, while in Delhi and Hyderabad, 31% and 28% of those surveyed said they had been sexually harassed. Around 38% of the respondents across 7 cities in India said that in today's workplaces, "men are as vulnerable to sexual harassment as women".[v] Another notion which is completely unacceptable in society is we never look at females as a perpetrator, a woman can only be a victim but never a perpetrator, but it might be very shocking to know that women are also perpetrator, in a survey, it was observed that out of 28.6% men who experienced sexual assault, around 54.8% men victims reported females as perpetrators.[vi] Another survey which was conducted by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention observed that out of 43.8% lesbians who were accounted as victims of sexual assault, 67.4% of lesbians reported females as their perpetrators.[vii]
Both males and females are victims of sexual assaults as well as perpetrators of such assaults,
thus, confining of laws relating to these assaults needs to be opened up for males as well as LGBTQ community.
Need for change of Assumptions
With the advancement and increasing literacy confining women to be a victim and men to be perpetrator is wrong. Some of the wrong assumptions in the society are, considering men guilty until he proves his innocence, considering women weak, fragile are more prone to become victim, not recognizing difficulties and assault faced by transgender and homosexuals, and even teasing, torturing and disrespecting these communities by just not accepting their identities and forcing them to behave like a man or a woman.
Also in our society, people rarely know about sexual assault by the female on females, by females on males or by males on males,[viii] sexual assault or exploitation is not only limited to a forceful act of fulfilling sexual desire but also used for dominance and also prevalent in the exploitation of a lower class of societies, thus it is heinous crime which deals with a lot of inhuman sexual behavior and involves women, men and people from LGBTQ community.[ix] Therefore, some of the assumptions we have to need to change, just the way women should be respected as the men, similarly men should also be looked with a sense of understanding and sympathy, men don't need to be tough and strong, we as individuals need to change this notion prevalent in our societies.
India needs some of its laws to be Gender neutral as a crime can be committed against a man or woman and in both the instances it is equally heinous and awful. This article is not about derogating image of women, neither it indicates that women are no longer a victim and becoming penetrators. Still among the larger strata of society women face a lot of discrimination, dominance and exploitation and still need special privileges to come to equal footings. However, this article only tried to focus on the similar crime also faced by men and transgender community who are unprotected, thus laws some of the laws should be made gender-neutral. The rights of men and the LGBT community should be protected as social justice and equality can only be assured when every individual of the society is safe and protected.
[i] Arvind Narain, Violation of Bodily Integrity, The Economic and Political Weekly, 2013.
[iii] Fiebert, M. S. (2000). REFERENCES EXAMINING MEN AS VICTIMS OF WOMEN'S SEXUAL COERCION. Sexuality and Culture, 4(3), 81–88. DOI:10.1007/s12119-000-1023-7
[v] Kritika Kapoor, "Men too are victims of sexual harassment" 15-9-2012 Times of India <http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-15/man-woman/33738183 1workplace-bill-sexual-harassment-unwelcome-sexual-advances> last accessed 31-12-2012.
[viii] 53Perera, A. (2013). Why a gender-neutral anti-women, The Firstpost. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/living/why-a-gender-neutral-anti-rape-law-isnt-anti-women657065.html?utm_source=ref_article on January 9, 2014.