WOMEN-CENTRIC LAWS: IS IT TIME FOR GENDER-NEUTRALITY IN THE LAWS? by-Sakhamuri. PoornaSindhu
India had seen a period where women are not considered individuals in society. They were mere tools or living beings to procreate children and develop the family in that sense. It is known that the birth of a male child in the family is more desired maybe even to date at a few places and in a few families. When the country was facing this discrimination and women were ill-treated as mere property of their husbands, we realized the need for laws or sanctions against such acts. Therefore, the legislation enacted laws to protect their rights and give recognition to women, and make them free from any discrimination in society. But today, with time women are in a better place economically and individually. Women are earning equal to men and are educated. The need for exclusive and extreme laws in favour of women can now be detrimental and it is also time to realize the need for gender neutrality in the laws in India. Though men are not deprived as much as women were at times, their rights are as important as every other citizen of the country. Therefore, every citizen must have equal rights and equal protection in law against any crime against them.
Keywords: women-centric laws, gender neutrality, discrimination, equality, fundamental rights, Indian Constitution, false cases, misuse of laws.
The Indian Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights to its citizens including the Right to Equality and Equal Protection before the law. It is the most crucial feature of our constitution. Despite this, Article 15(3) states that special laws to protect women and children can be added by the legislature and the same will not be considered a violation of equal rights. However, the extremity of this provision is directly or indirectly violating the equality rights of men. Having laws to protect the weaker or deprived section of society is reasonable but some laws need to be gender-neutral in this era.
Women-centric laws have become a weapon to register false cases on men and deprive them of their rights. As there is no efficient law to protect the interests and rights of men, this is favoring women. India states itself as a progressive and developing country but at the same time, it failed to protect its citizens equally before the law. The appropriate example for this statement is Section 498A and also the rape laws in the Indian Penal Code. There are numerous false cases filed under these provisions against men as they are solely towards women and against men. Reports state that more than 50% of cases filed under these sections are false and this is because these provisions do not perceive that these crimes can happen against men as well. Therefore, they only believe women as victims and men as the accused in all instances possible. However, stating that men are stronger than women will not exclude them and their rights from being protected.
Countries like Finland, Australia, Canada, etc, have adopted gender-neutral laws (rape laws) in their countries realizing the need to have them. Society itself suppresses the male victims from voicing the crimes against them with its patriarchal beliefs. Men are undoubtedly stronger than women, but the fact that men are being equally abused mentally or physically by the women in the households and also in general. This is still an unresolved scenario in the developing country and it has to be addressed immediately to protect the rights of equality and provide justice. This paper will further discuss the women-centric laws in the country and their misuse which result in crimes against men and also the need for having gender-neutral laws in India.
Gender neutrality in certain laws is the most important aspect to protect the rights of every individual equally and deliver justice in clear form. Gender neutrality in the literal sense is the concept that avoids the differentiation or any distinction upon gender or sex so that discrimination does not arise which results in violation of rights. Such discrimination arises from the sense of patriarchal beliefs that only a particular gendered person can do a particular role. When any such beliefs are arisen stating that only men can do certain work and women are to do the other work, discrimination exists and call for gender neutrality. It highlights treating every individual equally despite any gender differences. Such treatment should be economically, socially, and also lawfully evident with no place for discrimination and injustice. For centuries, women were underprivileged, deprived of rights, and treated as property or assets of a man. It was believed that women are always dependent at every stage of their lives upon a man like a father, husband, and then sons in the family. There were many unreported atrocities against women within the families and society which are suppressed to date. Illiteracy, child marriages, prostitution and segregation, polygamy, female child infanticide, sati, denial of work, and individuality, rapes, and suppression of rights are among the most serious crimes. In light of these crimes against women, the legislature realized the need to frame women-centric laws to protect them against such crimes. This was justified at that time as per the need.
In the 21st century, we get up to terms with feminism and act to fight for equal rights for every individual. But, this fight and equality in society mean the rights of women. The laws made in the same sense are as follows:
Domestic Violence Act, 2005: This was specifically made to protect women and children against violence by men in the family. This excludes the aspect of domestic violence against men. This view was set due to patriarchal beliefs and limitations. The sure fact about the act is that it protects and delivers justice to many women in the country who are victims of domestic violence due to many reasons. However, just like any other women-centric laws, it was made with the belief that women can only be the victims in the case and men are the accused. The point held in Section 32(2) of this act clarifies the same by stating that the woman who is only the victim can file a case against domestic violence and the same will be considered without any evidence needed.
In the case of Meenavathi vs. Senthamarai Selvi,2 it was held that women under this act can only be the victim and therefore any accusation against women will not be accepted by the legislature. It is now more prone to false accusations against innocent men by women to gain undue motives and make false accusations against men. By only including women in the act, it is narrower and declines justice to men and other genders as well. it ignores the fact that women are also capable to harass a man in different aspects and they do. For 15 years, the act remained the same though the circumstances in the world around changed with time. This is a call for gender-neutral laws in the country.
Sexual Harassment at Workplace or POSH Act, 2013: This legislation was brought to force to protect women from facing any kind of harassment sexually in the workplace. The need for this law was recognized in the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan3. Again, this law was restricted to women only and excludes men from the perspective only due to the patriarchal feelings and beliefs that men cannot be harassed as they are the stronger sect of the society compared to women. The men who are victims of sexual harassment at the workplace are not at all rescued by this or any other law. It violates their right to equality and therefore calls for gender-neutral laws in the matter to deliver justice to every citizen equally.
Indian Penal Code, 1860: Sections 354A, 354B, 354C, 354D, 366A, 366B, 375, and 376A to 376D, 498A are a few major and crucial laws that are completely women-centric and exclude male victims from its ambit. In the rape provisions of IPC, it reads that “to any woman” and “by a man” which means that only women can be a victim of sexual offenses and not men. Men are always considered the accused of such offenses. These provisions directly avoid the male victims and deny to deliver justice under these provisions. The majority of complaints received by women under these provisions are held to be false in various reports and also in the judiciary. However, it still fails to make the laws gender neutral and protect the male victims from false accusations.
Due to the societal beliefs and standards, the male victims of sexual offenses and also the other gender people hesitate and most of the time they fail to voice the injustice happening to them because they are made to feel that such instances against them are impossible and they will be humiliated if they come out to the public. Only because of these assumptions and the same in the minds of the family, their voice will be suppressed and justice never reached them. Recently, in Kerala, we came across an incident where a woman falsely accused a police officer of sexual harassment due to which he had to spend 77days behind the bars. After the term, the court declared that the accusations were false and held the women liable. But the reputation of a man is something not bothered in such cases. The same society which fights for women’s rights will see the accused man as the “rapist” despite the fact of such accusations are true or false. The black side of these laws will only be rectified when we have gender-neutral laws of the same. In that sense, the judiciary can deal with the false cases and also address the male victims by breaking the patriarchal societal norms.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, and Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017 are other such women-centric laws in the country. All the above- mentioned laws are made with good motives and are appreciated for protecting women against the evil they face in society each day. But in today’s time, there is a dire need to protect the rights of men as well because they are being deprived of the same due to these extreme provisions favoring women. As there are no strong provisions to deal with false cases, this is becoming more important to have.
CRIMES AGAINST MEN DUE TO SUCH LAWS
False cases: False accusations of rape and dowry demands are the most serious consequences that men encounter due to the extremity of powers to women via laws. various reports proved that 74% of cases that women file on rape are false. Due to such instances men go through a lot of mental trauma, a humiliation in society and they also have to live in fear throughout their lives and in some cases, they result in suicide as well. The presumption that only men can rape and not women and also laws favoring this thought is so extreme that women are given extreme powers which they are using against men.
In 2018, we witnessed a case where a mother of a 20-year-old son, accused him of committing rape against her. Due to this, he was arrested and the proceedings continued for 1.5years. Post this term, she admitted that she filed a false case against her son because he became furious and aggressive. There are various other cases (where such instances are reported and the rights of men are violated and ignored by the system itself.
Apart from the above, there are cases where the consummation was consensual but the women turn it out to be rape and file a false case against the men. Now, this is something very hard to prove in a court of law i.e., consent. Due to many reasons like breakups, failure to fulfill any demands, fraudulent motives of women, etc.
In the survey conducted by the Insia Dariwala, 1500 men were surveyed, as a result, it was proved that out of the count, 71% of men contended that they were abused sexually in different ways by different people in which 84.9% stated that they disclosed to people about them being abused. Out of them, 55.6% stated that they hide it because they feel it to be an ashamed fact, 43.5% out of fear followed by 50.9% on confusion, and 28.7% out of guilt. This makes it evident about the crime rate against men which remained unheard by society but it exists.
These false accusations of dowry and cruelty cases are quite similar to the ratio of rape cases. Such instances are serious and need to be considered with immediate effect to save the lives and also the rights of men in the current times. Its high time for lawmakers and also society to understand and realize that crime does not know the gender. It may happen to anyone and everyone in society and the consequences that an individual goes through are similar to anyone despite religion.
Domestic Violence: As per the assumption that only women go through violence by men in the family in marital relationships, the laws are lenient to women and not men. There are as many instances of domestic violence against men just like against women. But they are not out to the public due to many reasons. The provision on states that domestic violence is particular and gender-specific and thereby states that “the husband on his wife” and not generally “spousal abuse”. The difference is something to be noted. It is as important to protect the male/husband from such abuse as the wife. In the case of Dr. N.G. Dastane v. S. Dastane4, the court held that the stronger person is more capable to commit physical cruelty that is in a presumed sense, a man against a woman. But it was held that mental abuse or such cruelty can be done by both men and women against each other. However, in today’s time, both physical and mental abuses happen equally against each other and therefore have to be addressed in the same sense.
Married men (1000 male members) were examined in a study to determine the ratio of gender- based violence against men in India. It was recorded in this study that 52.4% of men were abused based on gender and 51.5% were abused by their wives. The gender stereotypes in the country portrayed that, women are the only victims of domestic violence, which is not true. Even though India is believed to be a male dominant country, it does not completely exclude them from being victims in the current times. Adding to this, gender-biased laws deny protecting the male victims from domestic violence and therefore, worsen the situation.
In Police Custody: This is often an unnoticed form of crime. There are a plethora of conditions laid to take the woman into police custody. Undoubtedly, a country like India must have such laws to protect women from exploitation. The issue is that the same is absent in the case of men. The term “third degree” in police custody is not unknown and how often this process gets misused by the police. In that sense, there is no point in not having measures to rescue such men. It is a serious violation of the fundamental rights of any individual and particularly men in this scenario. There are instances where such a process leads to the custodial death of a man. The same can happen with a woman as well but it is quite often with a man for no reason. Though there are laws to prevent custodial deaths, the question here is why it happens to men more often than women. There are stricter laws to protect women from such happenings than men. This has to be prevented to protect the rights of people equally.
MISUSE OF WOMEN-CENTRIC LAWS
Section 498A deals with the cruelty “by husband and his relatives” to the wife. This has set up a very narrow view on the issue limiting it to cruelty by the husband to wife and not talk about the same by the wife to her husband. Due to this, it resulted in a lot of misuses by women and lead to numerous false cases against men. Therefore, many suicide cases of the household men were reported. Women filed such false cases with a fraudulent motive to harass men and fulfil their demands.
In the case of Arnesh Kumar v. the State of Bihar5, the Honourable Supreme Court held that, due to the absolute powers of section 498A, women, rather than using it as a shield to protect them from such cruelty, are using it as a weapon with fraudulent intentions and motive against men and their family to harass them. Therefore, the court held that a satisfactory investigation into the matter is necessary before arresting the accused on a mere complaint filed.
Women are indirectly given rights to abuse men sexually, mentally, etc. because there are no right provisions to deal with against women. In the case of Priya Patel v. State of Madhya Pradesh6 women were accused of gang rape, but the court denied it by stating that “women cannot have an intention to commit rape.” This extremity in the women-centric laws is misused and results in these instances. Due to the patriarchal and stereotypical standards set by society, men are assumed to be stronger than women and cannot fight against men due to the same. There are cases of domestic violence (mental or physical) and rape by women on men or any gender which are unrecorded again due to societal limitations. It is strongly inserted in the minds that if such crimes are reported, a man will be humiliated by society and his reputation will be degraded. Only gender-neutral laws to prevent such crimes will help to overcome the situation.
As stated above, false cases are another such misuse that has to be addressed with immediate effect. Whenever a rape happens in a society, it is directly presumed that it is against a woman and people start protesting for her rights and justice. This is not judged as it comes out as an act of humanity. But, when a man is falsely accused of severe charges by a woman and after years of investigation and trial by the courts, if it is declared that the accused man is innocent, the same protests for his rights will not take place. Even though he may lose his loved ones or his career, it is not bothered by anyone except him and upon that, he will still be treated with the tag of “Rapist” or “Sadist/psycho” based on the crime. As a result, false accusations and charges can not only ruin a life but violates the rights of a man and justice to him which may lead to suicide.
JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS ON SUCH MISUSE
- In the case of Savitri Devi v. Ramesh Chand & Others7, the court held that women are misusing the laws which are enacted to shield them from injustice, as weapons. They are filing cases on those people who are not even involved in the case to satisfy their personal issues and
- In the similar case of Kanaraj v. the State of Punjab 8 court held that women are misusing the law favouring them by involving people who are not offenders and therefore the court opined that unless the case or the accusations are proved beyond reasonable doubt such persons cannot be involved.
- In the case of Narayan G. Dastane v. S. Narayan Dastane9, the wife was accused of performing cruelty against her husband by misusing the laws favouring women. The court held her to be guilty of the offense and stated that physical cruelty can be performed by the stronger person on the weaker But, mental abuse or cruelty can be performed by any individual as in this case by a woman/wife on a man/husband.
- In the case of Rajesh Sharma and Ors. v. the State of Bihar10, the court, on misuse of women-centric laws by women declared a few directions to avoid such laws. This judgment was given in the special focus of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The court ordered the creation of a welfare committee to look into the cases under the said section and only on the final report by such committee, the arrest will be
- In the case of Sushil Sharma v. Union of India and Ors.11, the court opined that misuse of law will lead to legal terrorism in the system. The provisions were enacted to shield women against atrocities on them but not as a weapon for them to misuse the same. The Hon’ble Judge, in this case, stated that these laws are not made to aid the fraudulent motives of a person. The court also held that the function of the court is to detect the truth in accusations and decide on the matter after reasonable
NEED FOR GENDER-NEUTRALITY IN THE COUNTRY
Most of the women-centric laws in the country that we follow to date are implemented since the years 1860, 1956, 1973, and 1983. That is the period when women are the major concern in society as there used to be grave atrocities and injustices against them. They have no voice in society and are mere property of men to deal with the household and produce children to develop the family. But today, it is different. The status of women is developed in almost all aspects. It is important for the laws to be dynamic and to mold as per the needs and demands of society. Today we can witness women committing crimes against men, misusing the favoured laws to the extremes. Just like people are accepting the concept of homosexuality in the country, times are changing. In the same view, it is time to accept that men are being victims of many crimes by women and our country lacks the laws to protect them.
In light of all the above-mentioned instances, it is evident that gender-neutral laws in the country are the best possible way to resolve issues and avoid discrimination based on gender, and also protect the rights of men in society as equal to that of women. A survey which was conducted by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention proved that 67.4% of females were reported as offenders of sexual assault. This makes it evident that men are also the victims or sufferers of sexual crimes that are not getting any remedy due to societal notions.
The Delhi High Court in Sudesh Jhaku v KC Jhaku12 the court went beyond the laid limitation and opined in favour of gender-neutral laws as well. In the case of State v. Sheodayal13, the HC thought that the modesty of a woman can be outraged by another woman under the application of section 354. It was held in the case of State of Himachal Pradesh v. Shree Kant Shekari14 that, Rape is a crime against the fundamental Right to Life of a victim under Article 21 of the Constitution. Apart from the rape provisions and any other female-centric provisions in the law, it is particularly important in every sense to protect male rights against any general crime just as women’s rights are protected. After the cited instances of crimes against men, the importance to have gender-neutral laws is more evident.
In light of the surveys and authorities cited, with the advancement in society, women are also becoming more socialized and are equal in everything to men. Therefore, regarding the statement, it is hereby humbly submitted before this Hon’ble court that there is a need in current times to make the laws gender neutral and protect the rights of men and everyone and guarantee their equal protection before the law as stated in fundamental rights of the constitution. There is no single legislation to redress the grievances of man and hence stands violative of the Right to Equality stipulated under the Indian Constitution. Therefore, laws should evolve and go hand in hand with the societal demands and needs or any changes. This can lead to a better society and uphold the rights of equality for every citizen and deliver justice.
Women-centric laws must evolve into gender-neutral laws and create no space for gender inequalities and crimes against men. Women were deprived of their rights which lead to the laws favoring them. Now, it’s time for men. The Voice of men against crimes happening against them is suppressed due to less hope in the judiciary and due to societal limitations. Society can overcome the same only when there are equal laws to protect the rights of every citizen equally and not just one. This will end the atrocities and will lead to a better community where the injustices are addressed without discrimination. Gender equality in the laws will lead to eradicating political and social differences based on gender, and wellness. Therefore, the need to have gender-neutral laws should be realized in no time as it is the need of the hour and should also be enacted to promote equality and justice.
2 Meenavathi vs. Senthamarai Selvi, CRL.O.P. (MD)No.12092 of 2008.
3 Vishaka v. the State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241.
4 Dr. N.G. Dastane v. S. Dastane, 1975 AIR 1534.
5 Arnesh Kumar v. the State of Bihar, (2014) 8 SCC 273.
6 Priya Patel v State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 2006 SC 2639.
7 Savitri Devi v. Ramesh Chand & Others, 2003 CriLJ 2759.
8 Kanaraj v. the State of Punjab, 2000 CriLJ (2993).
9 Narayan Ganesh Dastane v. Sucheta Narayan Dastane, 1975 AIR 1534.
10 Rajesh Sharma and Ors. v. State of Bihar, (Crl.) No. 2013 of 2017.
11 Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India & Others, JT 2005(6) 266.
12 Sudesh Jhaku v KC Jhaku, 1998 CRILJ 2428.
13 State v. Sheodayal, 1955 NLJ 563.
14 State of Himachal Pradesh v. Shree Kant Shekari, (2004) 8 SCC 153.