India Looks To Make Rape Laws Gender-Neutral


NEW DELHI – The Indian government is considering making rape a gender-neutral offence, with the Union Cabinet on Thursday scheduled to discuss it as part of a clutch of proposals designed to enhance punishment for sexual assault.

Other proposals seek to make ‘stalking’ and ‘acid attacks’ specific offences, prevent those accused of rape from getting away by casting aspersions on the character of their victims, and stiffen the punishment for those found guilty of custodial rape.

The proposal before the Cabinet seeks to change the definition of “rape” as a crime involving sexual assault of women and defined by forcible penetration. The move now is to expand the definition to include male victims of sexual assault as well by changing the relevant provisions of the IPC, Evidence Act and CrPc. If the proposal goes through, “rape” as a category of crime will cease to exist in the statute books, as the proposal is to replace it with “sexual assault”—a gender-neutral distinction.

Supreme Court advocate Aparna Bhatt welcomed the move, pointing out that sexual abuse of boys was rampant, but two others, Flavia Agnes and Vrinda Grover, came out against the proposal. Bhatt, a member of the Delhi Commission for Women, said those accused of sodomy, if convicted, get away with lighter punishment than what is meted out to victims of rape.