Resolution on Women’s Movement : Challenges and Tasks

10. The recently enacted law against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace undermines the pathbreaking and legally binding Vishakha guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in 1997. A blatantly anti-women provision in the new law is punishment for ‘false’ complaints which will deter women from filing complaints. The law also fails to ensure the effective autonomy of the complaints committees against sexual harassment from employers; and fails to guarantee the continued autonomy of existing and successfully functioning bodies.

11. The refusal of the law to recognize marital rape is based on the idea of the wife as property of the husband – and the adultery law is based on the same assumption. The UPA Government’s move, some years back, to amend the adultery law was not motivated by any will to correct gender bias. The adultery law allows the ‘aggrieved’ husband to file a criminal complaint against his wife’s lover (if the husband has an affair, the wife has no legal remedy). The Government had, in 2008, sought suggestions from all states in favour of amending the law to allow for criminalizing the wife who has an extra-marital affair! The Government has ignored the suggestion by the NCW and by the women’s movement, that the criminal law against adultery be deleted, and infidelity be treated as a civil wrong by one spouse against another rather than a criminal offence.

12. Abuse and rape of children, very often by family members, is rampant in India. This crime is also closely linked with patriarchal culture, whereby children are denied autonomy and taught unquestioning obedience and subservience to adults, and sex education is frowned upon. Moreover, it cannot be seen in isolation from the custom of child marriage (abolished less than a century ago but still rampant in many parts of India). The rape of children inside protection homes and hostels (as seen in Haryana and Chhattisgarh recently) is a heinous crime. This crime underlines the fact that power and authority, whether inside the family or in such institutions, is at the root of sexual violence against children. While the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences Act enacted in 2012 is a welcome step, much more needs to be done to challenge the culture that facilitates child abuse and child rape.

13. The Government is yet to back up the laws against sexual violence and domestic violence with effective budgetary allocations for safe shelter homes, free medical care, and rehabilitation for survivors of acid attacks and rape. Moreover, Governments have shown their willingness to capitulate to pressure from organised anti-women forces in many instances. For example, currently the Central Government is responding to the orchestrated campaign against the dowry laws by proposing amendment to Section 498-A (relating to severe domestic violence and dowry-related torture).

14. The assertion of women, especially young women, for education, jobs, share in property, and greater autonomy in their private lives, including choice of partners, threatens the caste order and patriarchal norms of transfer of property, and is being met with open patriarchal offensives. In several cases, this offensive takes the form of a ‘benign’ display of patriarchal and familial authority, which appeals to filial ‘loyalty’ on the part of women, and to ‘the sacred duties and virtues’ of Indian mothers and wives. In other cases it takes the form of ‘honour’ crimes within the family. And increasingly, ‘honour’ crimes and moral policing are taking on an organized socio-political form, with Sangh Parivar outfits, khap panchayats, and other reactionary outfits of all religions unleashing organized attacks to enforce casteist, communal, and patriarchal diktats. Governments show little will to fight such organized forces indulging in moral policing and ‘honour’ crimes, rather there is a high degree of collusion on part of political forces and state machinery. In many instances of ‘honour’ crimes, it is the dominant castes that unleash violence on women from their own caste, as well as oppressed castes, for breaching caste boundaries in marriage. But ‘honour’ crimes are not the exclusive preserve of dominant castes. The oppressed castes and adivasi communities, branded as undeserving of ‘honour’ by the dominant castes, have also begun to lay a claim to Brahminical patriarchal ‘honour’ by controlling the sexuality and freedom of women within their own communities.