‘Raped’ men see new hope

A bill to be introduced in parliament proposes to make the existing rape law gender-neutral. Traumatised male victims in Bangalore are upbeat their assailants could soon be brought to justice, but the change is opposed by some women’s groups.

 

The word ‘rape’ conjures up a picture of a crime committed by a man against a woman. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) also defines rape as an act in which the victim is a woman and the perpetrator a man. Soon, rape law is set to change. The term ‘rape’ will be replaced with ‘sexual assault’ and the law will become gender-neutral. In other words, the law will accept the possibility of men being raped.

 

But, to go back to a basic question, can men be raped? Talk spoke to some male victims and found them dealing with the same trauma the law associates with women rape victims.

 

Twelve years ago, Balakrishna was raped. “They were eight men,” he recalls. “It went on all night, from eight at night to five in the morning. Then, they left me naked and bleeding in the Hesaraghatta forest.”

 

In 1999, on a night he will never forget, Balakrishna was waiting at the bus stop in Jalahalli. When no bus came, he boarded an auto, sharing it with two men. Little did he realise the intentions of his fellowpassengers.

 

Their friends joined them on bikes and drove Balakrishna to a wooded area on the outskirts of Bangalore. There they took turns sodomising him. “They stubbed cigarettes on my body, and poured liquor on the wounds. When I writhed in pain, they slapped and kicked me,” he says.

 

The morning after the incident, Balakrishna managed to get to a friend’s place. In hospital, they went about treating him routinely. That was because, he surmises, hospitals see many cases like his. “It’s nothing new,” he says. A bigger jolt came when he discovered he had contracted HIV. He believes the rapists gave it to him. “I bled for two months. Even now when I think about it, I feel the pain,” he says.

 

Balakrishna has spent all these years cursing his assailants, but hasn’t been able to take any legal action. He didn’t go to the police because he didn’t know what to tell them. Even the law was inadequate. The police would only have charged the perpetrators under Section 377, which spoke of unnatural sex. But Balakrishna is gay, and he could have been indicted, too.

 

The law is more sensitive today. “The Delhi High Court has repealed Section 377. But there is no protection for a rape victim if you are not a woman,” says Siddharth Narayanan, lawyer with Alternative Law Forum.

 

How did this change come about, and what lies in store? On July 20, the cabinet approved the introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill of 2011 in parliament. One proposal in it is to replace the word ‘rape’ with ‘sexual assault,’ making the law gender-neutral. This will also change the definition of rape.

 

As of now, the IPC defines an act as rape only if there is penal-vaginal penetration. With the amendment, sexual assault will include penetration into the vagina, mouth or anus with any part of the body or an object.

 

ELDERLY WOMAN’S CASE

 

Many groups have been fighting for the change for years. In February this year, a Delhi sessions court gave a wakeup call. An 18-year old man had dragged an 80-year-old woman to a secluded place and repeatedly penetrated her with a stick. Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau noted in her order that the law could do little to punish the crime. Despite the barbarity, the assailant could not be tried under the rape law, and the act had to be described as a man trying to ‘outrage the modesty of a woman’. The offender was also charged with kidnapping and attempt to murder.

 

“The law will now cover a range of sexual acts. The victim or the perpetrator could be any person, any gender,” says Aravind Narrain, a lawyer with Alternative Law Forum.

 

Rajesh Srinivas (24), an activist, alleges he was sexually assaulted by the transgender Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, who became a celebrity after she was featured in the reality show Big Boss Season 5. It happened in January this year in Chennai, when Rajesh was attending a conference. He was in a bus meant for delegates. Most passengers were transgender individuals. “I was holding my bag to protect myself. But they pulled it away from me. Laxmi pulled away my pajamas and touched my private parts. I don’t want to get into the details,” Rajesh says.

 

His colleague Shankari came to his rescue and Rajesh managed to get off the bus. “People in the bus were saying things like, ‘You should be lucky. Laxmi is after you.’” The experience has shaken Rajesh. “I haven’t been able to sleep at night. It took me months even to speak about it,” he says. In fact, Rajesh has still not spoken about it to his family. “I know they will stand by me, but how can I tell this to them,” he says.

 

Rajesh filed a complaint with Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) at Sangama, an NGO. The committee found Rajesh’s allegations true and asked Laxmi to give a public apology. Laxmi did, and added that she wasn’t aware Rajesh would perceive her behavior as harassment. “If a law had been in place, I would certainly have filed a police complaint against Laxmi,” Rajesh says.

 

WILL IT BACKFIRE?

 

Despite being a victim, Rajesh feels the new law should not generalise. “The women at the grassroots do not get justice. The amendment should not go against them. The finer points should be worked out well,” he says.

 

Women’s organisations echo Rajesh’s sentiments. They fear the amendment may backfire on women victims. “When a woman files a complaint, the perpetrators can now say the woman raped them,” says Shakun of Vimochana, an NGO working for women. She supports gender neutralisation but feels not all sexual assault should be brought under the ambit of the rape law. “They can come under new sections,” she argues.

 

And then there is the question of whether men can be raped by women. “Such cases are hardly reported, but it is not impossible,” says Siddharth Narayanan. He narrates the examples of sexual assaults in Abu Ghraib on Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. “There the commander in charge was a woman. She directed the sexual assaults on the prisoners.” Many men don’t report sexual assault because they are afraid their ‘masculinity’ will come into question.

 

Men’s organisations feel that it’s high time the change in law was brought about. “We have come across cases where women have sexually assaulted men. But not many want to talk about it in the open. When the Bill was introduced in 2010, we led a campaign. We welcome the cabinet’s decision,” says Virag Dhulia, Head, Gender Studies, Confidare Research, a group working for men’s rights.

 

In 1997, Sakshi an NGO working for women had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, seeking the substitution of the word ‘rape’ with ‘sexual assault’.

 

Now, with the law becoming gender-neutral, we still do not know if it will actually help women rape victims, and cover men victims too.

 

“The draft has not been made public yet. Only after seeing it will we know the nuances,” says Aravind Narrain. “Including sexual assaults against men in the ambit of law is definitely a progressive move.”

 

Read the article on TALK website at http://talkmag.in/cms/news/city

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