Recent incidents of crime against women have engaged young men and women in the ongoing discourse on political and social change in the country. To channelize the energy of this young generation of protestors and campaigners in a productive manner by spreading legal awareness and understanding about violence against women, Jamia Millia Islamia’s Outreach Programme in collaboration with the Indian School of Women’s Studies & Development (ISWSD) organized a Young Girls’ Convention on ‘Consent, Choice and Young Women’ on September 25, 2013 at Mir Anis Room, Dayar-e-Mir Taqi Mir, JMI. [Link to Audio]
The Panelists included Prof. Malini Bhattacharya, Director ISWSD, and Former Chairperson, Bengal Commission for Women and Former Member, National Commission for Women; Shubha, writer, poet and former professor, M.D. University Rohtak; and Nandita Rao, Lawyer, Delhi High Court and Supreme Court.
“We now have a law for protection of women against domestic violence, in which sexual violence in marital relationships is recognized, but not in the rape law. In [the] rape law, marital rape is not acknowledged unless the girl is below 15 … But if the wife is over 15, then by the fact that she consented to the marriage, she has consented, for a lifetime, for sex within marriage,” she said.
Speaking on consent, lawyer Nandita Rao said, “No law defines the word consent. Consent is not defined in our constitution. It is not defined in the Indian Penal Code. It is not defined in the Hindu Marriage Act. It is not defined in the … Muslim Personal Law. But it is used.”
She made a reference to the Phullan Devi gangrape while stating that consent is more than saying “No”.
She also stated that neither the Criminal Amendment Act 2013, nor the Domestic Violence Act 2005 have made any significant contribution to “make space for women to express their will.”
“You have two options. Option one is stay in your violent marriage. Option two is go to court, get a restraint order against your husband, get the custody of your child, or end your marriage. There is no space within the institution of marriage to express your will. It’s stay or leave,” Rao said.
“Choice is actually the mother of expressing consent. Yes and no means I don’t have a choice. I don’t have a negotiating space,” she added.
Rao further said that creation of economic opportunities and ending social sanction that forces women to stay in violent relationships or situations is necessary in order to create to a negotiating space for women to express their will and consent. And that the law has failed in this area. She stated that the social sanction that traps women into violence is a result of feudalism and capitalism. “If you force people to get married and stick in a marriage, then you can keep private property in one place,” she said.
Rao added that the law, just like society, gives women little or no space for choice. “Keep fighting for it. And next time, there is a movement like the Nirbhaya movement, think deeply about what you want. Do you want a law which makes the punishment stricter, or do you want a law that makes the street safer?” she said.
Shubha talked in length about honour killings in Haryana. She said that an existing law against murder is different from the need to have a law against honour killings because honour killings are sanctioned by the society by using religion, caste or political power.
Shubha said, “Ye naya phenomenon hai. Ye purani caste ya purane mazhab ke maamle nahi hai … Jab ye ek ladki ke khilaaf, ek ladke ke khilaaf, choice ke khilaaf … jo ye mahaul banate hai ek tareeke ka, ye jo mobilization hai isme ek nayi taaqat aayi hai, ye ek nayi cheez hai. Kyuki isse per vote bataore jaate hai.” (This is a new phenomenon. This isn’t the age-old problems related to caste or religion. When they create troubles for a girl or a boy or for an environment of choice … this mobilization has a new power to it. It is a new thing. Because on this basis, they garner votes.)
Shubha said that boys too have borne the consequences of patriarchy. She said, “Ladkiyon ke baare me kum se kum ye pata chal gaya hai ki wo bahut peedit hai. Ladko ke baare me ye bhi nahi pata lag raha. Wo apna real self bikul matlab kho gaye hai. Apne se ek dum bekhabar ho gaye hai ladke. Itne bekhabar ho gaye hai … wo patriarchy ka role play karte karte, wo apni location bhool gaye hai.” (At least, we have found out that girls suffer. But we don’t know much about what boys go through. They have forgotten and are unaware of their real selves. They have lost themselves while being the darlings of patriarchy.)
Shubha said that just like girls, boys too are not allowed to be human beings, and society forces them to have stereotypical traits and behaviours. She went on to narrate several horrific incidents of honour killings in Haryana, including the famous case of Manoj-Babli honour killings.
The panelists concluded the session by answering questions raised by the students.
Among others the convention was attended by a mix of about 50 students and few female faculty members. There were no male members of the faculty in the audience.
Listen to the entire two-hour long discussion here: