Earlier today, we were given a warm welcome at a nursing college in Chennai where we conducted a gender violence awareness training for nursing students. The first session was attended by 130 students from all 4 years and the session centred on what is gender violence and how nurses can recognize victims of violence. One student said, “Violence can take you by surprise. It happens when you don't expect and can be from a uncle or some relative. It need not be a stranger.” The second session was a more intensive workshop for 60 senior students on how a healthcare professional can respond and focused on interacting with victims of violence with sensitivity and compassion.
What Laws govern Sexual Assault and Violence in India?No specific law governs workplace sexual harassment in India. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 offers only two extremes: Rape, outraging and insulting the modesty of a woman, but does not address any other form of Sexual Assault and Violence. Rape is punished under Section 375, with the term being defined as occurring in six circumstances - when a man has sexual intercourse:
- against the victim’s will;
- without her consent;
- with her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person she may be interested in, in fear of death or hurt;
- with her consent, when the man knows he is not her husband;
- with her consent, when while giving such consent she was intoxicated, or suffered from unsoundness of mind and did not understand the nature and consequences of giving consent,
- with or without her consent when she is under sixteen years old.The section explains that penetration is sufficient to constitute the sexual intercourse necessary to constitute rape. By Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983, new sections were introduced: Section 376(A) where sexual intercourse with wife without her consent by a judicially separated husband is punishable; Section 376(B) where sexual intercourse by a public servant with a woman in custody is punishable. Section 376(C) where sexual intercourse by superintendent of jail, remand house, and the like is punishable; and Section 376(D) where sexual intercourse by any member of the management or staff of a hospital with any woman in that hospital is punishable.
For any other form of sexual assault or sexual violence, there is specific redress mechanism. Where there is any form of assault including the attempt to rape, the modus operandi involves charging the accused with Section 354, which dictates that a person who assaults or uses criminal force to any woman with intent to outrage her modesty, although the term “outrage her modesty” is obscure and ambiguous. In cases where the accused sexually harasses or insults the modesty of a woman by way of either - obscene acts or songs or - by means of words, gesture, or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman, is liable for punishment under Sections 294 and 509 respectively. However, another important ingredient of this offence is that the obscene acts or songs must be committed or sung in or near any public place. Other legislations include the Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986 to protect women from harassment, and the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956, governs prostitution and trafficking of women.
A special thanks to Kirthi Jayakumar who contributed to this article. Kirthi is a lawyer who is specialized in Public International Law and Human Rights. She runs a journal and consultancy that focuses on International Law, called A38. http://www.athirtyeight.com/