The Supreme Court of India's latest ruling on consent demands that the society reinspects its gaze at “Easy Virtue” women. Ruling on a 20-year-old case of gang rape, the SC bench stated that women of “easy virtue” too have the right to refuse to submit themselves to sexual intercourse. This landmark ruling comes as a great relief to survivors who are painted as women of no morality by the defence. More than anything though, this ruling will prevent defenders in rape cases from questioning the character of survivors, in order to justify their actions.
In the eyes of the society, especially men, the consent of a woman whom they perceive to be “easy” has no value. If she works as a prostitute she must always want sex. How can a prostitute cry rape? We hear such statement all the time, even in the most modern of setups in our country. Which shows what the general vote on the relation between consent and being an “easy” woman is. However, the Supreme Court’s decision has reinforced what women have been saying all along. That men and our society need to revise its definition of consent. That a woman’s profession or her virtues mustn’t entitle men to rape her.
Rape is a crime in every context because at the core it is a pure and simple violation of a woman’s dignity against her will.
A no is a no, irrespective of who is saying it
It is high time for our society to implement that men should respect and accept every woman’s consent. Who said it, what she does for a living or her virtues do not dilute or strengthen the relevance of a "no". No means denial. In the context of sex, it means the refusal to participate in the act. If a person proceeds to force himself on a woman despite her saying no, then he is committing a crime. But more often than not, the society lets its conservative views on sexuality and sex trade tamper with its sense of right or wrong.
- A Supreme Court bench has stated that women of “easy virtue” too have the right to refuse to submit themselves to sexual intercourse.
- This landmark ruling comes as a great relief to survivors who are painted as women of no morality by the defence.
- The society mostly overlooks men's sexual misconduct, because being a loose woman is a bigger crime in its eyes, than a violation of someone’s consent.
- Violation of a woman's consent is wrong in every context.
It gives men a free pass, because being a loose woman is a bigger crime in its eyes, than a violation of someone’s consent. In order to safeguard patriarchy and force values and virtues on women, it willingly overlooks a grave crime. If you sleep around, men will rape you, and rightly so.
How do we expect men to learn the value of women’s consent, if the society keeps backing their actions, simply to keep women in line?
The problem of sexual crimes in India won’t resolve unless we end this sense of entitlement among men. A little will change unless we stop attaching character certificates to women’s vaginas. Men will keep using it as a shield to protect their entitlement, if not in courts then outside it. What will change though is that rapists will not be able to use it as a legal defence?
Hopefully, after this ruling, no woman's dignity will be further dissected by those defending the accused. No woman would have to defend her lifestyle and bear the shame for not living by society's expectations of ideal conduct. But for things to change outside of courts, the society will have to take this ruling as a cue at changing times. It stands at a critical juncture, where it is possible to control the menace of sexual crimes against women, by simply not losing focus from the conduct of men, even when its beloved virtues are at stake.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.