Since there is no visible decrease in the number of crimes against women, are all our efforts going in vain? Considering the rising number of crimes against women, Central Government firmly opposed a PIL that demanded rape laws to be gender-neutralised. They did so following the fact that the victims of rape in India are mostly women and the perpetrators mostly men.

These sections have been enacted to protect and keep a check on the rising levels of sexual offenses against women in India…Keeping in view the ambit of POCSO Act which covers all forms of sexual offenses against minors and section 377 of the IPC, it was felt that existing definition of rape under section 375 should be left untouched.

Advocate Sanjib Kumar filed a PIL at the Delhi High Court in 2017, challenging the constitutionality of the rape laws under the Indian Penal Code. The gender-neutral laws in themselves mean that all the genders be treated equally in the eyes of law, and for that, the law should mention the genders or it should be gender neutral. According to IPC’s sections 375 and 376, the laws related to rape are gender specific. This states that the victims are women and the perpetrators are men. In fact, the definition of rape starts with “A man is said to commit rape if …”

“As someone who attends calls from survivors I can confirm that people from all genders get raped. Speaking about adults, women can file cases against men who abuse them under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. Survivors of rape of all other genders can find support in section 377. Section 377 has only decriminalised consensual sex between adults. Nonconsensual sex still remains a crime,” says Harish Iyer, an Indian Equal Rights Activist.

“Gender neutrality is a simple recognition of reality — men sometimes fall victim to the same or at least very similar acts to those suffered by women…Male rape is far too prevalent to be termed as an anomaly or a freak incident. By not having gender-neutral rape laws, we are denying a lot more men justice than is commonly thought.” Kumar stated in his petition.

“These sections have been enacted to protect and keep a check on the rising levels of sexual offenses against women in India…Keeping in view the ambit of POCSO Act which covers all forms of sexual offenses against minors and section 377 of the IPC, it was felt that existing definition of rape under section 375 should be left untouched.”

The Central government then stated that it decided to hold section 375 after necessary deliberations with various stakeholders and women’s group. Their affidavit, published in a legal news publication, Bar & Bench, states: “These sections have been enacted to protect and keep a check on the rising levels of sexual offenses against women in India…Keeping in view the ambit of POCSO Act which covers all forms of sexual offenses against minors and section 377 of the IPC, it was felt that existing definition of rape under section 375 should be left untouched.”

The petition has been raking up debate since it was filed in the High Court. The debates got stronger when the #MeToo movement hit India and even men came out to be a victim of sexual harassment. This also invoked certain #MenToo movements in some parts of India. These groups too are demanding modification in the rape laws. Last year, according to reports, the Delhi HC nudged the Central Government during the hearing of this PIL and asked if there will ever be a right time to make rape and its punishment under the IPC gender neutral.

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