In the wake of a fatal brutal gang rape that caught the world's attention, the Indian parliament has drafted a new anti-rape bill that guarantees new protections for victims of violence. According to the BBC, the bill includes doubling the punishments for rapists:
"Under the changes, the minimum sentence for gang rape, rape of a minor, rape by policemen or a person in authority will be doubled to 20 years and can be extended to life without parole."
In certain cases, harsher measures will also be enforceable. Attackers whose victim remains in a "persistent vegetative state" or dies will face the death penalty.
The bill also introduces voyeurism and stalking as crimes punishable by law. The fact that these acts weren't even considered criminal offenses until this day should be enough to get your boil boiling, but what’s worse is certain politicians' reluctance to offer protection against these crimes. The provisions concerning voyeurism and stalking had to be watered down because several ministers thought they would give women too much protection against stalkers and voyeurs. Funny how we never hear anyone complain we are giving too much protection against victims of burglary or theft.
Chief Sharad Yadav notably admitted to his vaguely threatening fondness for stalking, and hailed it as the norm in India as he said: "Who amongst us have not followed girls?" Thanks to helpful comments like these, the provisions for stalking and voyeurism were lowered so that he (and all other men) could keep following Indian women around with impunity.
Other helpful remarks came from politicians who drew attention to the unintended consequences of laws that protect women from abuse. Minister Kuldeep Dhanda notably said:
"Some of the provisions have loopholes which can be misused and land anyone in problem. These clauses are extremely vague and the complainant can make allegations against anybody without any evidence."
Yes, because we all know that the first thing women do when they are offered equal protections under the law is misuse them to indiscriminately sabotage the men around them. The myth that women disproportionately make up false allegations against men is unfounded, disproved and flat-out offensive. It justifies denying women the protection they deserve and perpetuates harmful stereotypes about violence survivors. It makes us take crimes against women less seriously and exacerbate the cultural narratives that already discourage women from denouncing their assailants.
To add insult to injury, one minister decided to critique women’s attire on Indian TV and film during the debate surrounding the anti-rape laws. Yes, because a politician pointing to the length of women’s skirts is always welcome in a serious discussion about the epidemic proportions of rape in his country.
Many are complaining about the absence of several politicians while the bill was being debated. In fact, the house was almost empty at the time of the vote. The fact that most elected officials didn't even show up to the hearing says a lot about their level of commitment to ending violence against women.
According to the Atlantic, a woman in India is raped every 20 minutes, but the country has one of the lowest convictions rates in the world. These new anti-rape bills will certainly send a warning to potential sex offenders, but the attitudes of the very politicians debating it sends an even clearer message about how much farther we still have to go.