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Understanding The Evolution Of Violence Against Women

Offences towards women have existed since the beginning of time. Women have been considered meek, timid and even weak by the society. Thus, men have found it easy to outrage the modesty of a woman or molest her against her will. The Indian Penal Code,1860 (IPC)1 gives the meaning of the word ‘offence’ as something which denotes a thing that is punishable under the Code. Thus, the act or omission to do an act can be constituted as an offence to a woman if it is intended to cause harm to her indirectly or directly.

Since the beginning of history, women have been considered to be the weaker sex. Such violence has even been depicted in our sacred texts, be it the Vastra Haran of Draupadi in Mahabharat or the kidnapping of Sita in Ramayana. Ever since law was first codified in smritis, it has not been favourable to women. Kautilya in his book Arthashastra has even said that the main responsibility of women was to get married and bear children.

Thus, it should not come to us as a surprise that as many as 2.5 million crimes against women have been reported in India over the last decade.2 This should be considered inhuman for any nation. Our country boasts of a culture that treats women like goddesses but at the same time there is a rape case every 29 minutes, a case of molestation every 15 minutes and a dowry death every 4 hours.3

With the passage of time, assault on women started to become visibly associated with their social status.4 This can be prominently observed in India. Women from the lower economic strata are exploited by rich men who are socially accepted.

As the years progress, the crimes against women are increasing rapidly with each passing day. Even the scope of these crimes is broadening. For instance, in the past women only had to be vary of offline crimes whereas now, cyber-crimes against women have proved to be equally hazardous. During the lockdown, cybercrimes against women are exponentially rising.

Thus, the threat that women face continues to grow with each passing day. “According to National Commission for Women (NCW) data, 54 cybercrime complaints were received online in April in comparison to 37 complaints – received online and by post -- in March, and 21 complaints in February. The panel is taking complaints online due to the lockdown.” 5Even these numbers paint a bleak picture when compared to the reality that women are facing during this pandemic.

However, it is disheartening to note that more than half of these cases remain unreported to the competent authorities. This practice of wanting to “handle things unofficially ” has plagued the country since a long time. In the rare cases that women did used to report a crime, they aware often quietened with either money or force.

Also, the fear of being victim shamed does not enable women to report any crime suffered by them. The social stigma related to an offence against women can be best explained by Freda Adler in her book, ‘Sisters in crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal’ when she said “Perhaps it (rape) is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused and, in reality, it is she who must prove her good reputation, her mental soundness, and her impeccable propriety.” In recent times, urban women from educated households are coming forward with their stories and seeking justice but thousands of unreported cases still occur every day in modern India.

It would be incorrect to state that there has been no progress in recent times. Several landmark judgements have altered the course of how India views crimes against women. Be it the case of State of H.P. v Mango Ram6 ,where a 3 judge bench of the Supreme Court, while dealing with the aspect of consent for the purpose of Section 375 held “Submission of the body under the fear of terror cannot be construed as a consented sexual act.”, thereby severely broadening the concept of consent or case of Vishaka and Ors v State of Rajasthan and Ors7 wherein the bench of the Apex Court laid down certain guidelines to protect women from sexual harassment at the work place. These guidelines were called the Vishaka guidelines.

It is of grave importance that a two-fold approach to curb these offences in the 21st century. The first deterrent should be the punishment doled out to these offenders. Anything less than a penalty of greatest severity for any serious crime is thought then to be a measure of tolerance that is unwarranted and unwise but in fact, quite apart from those considerations that make punishment justifiable when it is out of proportion to the crime. Committing an offence that inflicts severe violence to women is barbaric and inhuman. It is a crime which not only breaks the victim but is a threat to the society at large as well. Thus, stringent punishments should be dealt to the offenders.

The object should be to protect the society and to deter the criminal in achieving the avowed object to law by imposing appropriate sentence. It is expected that the Courts would operate the sentencing system so as to impose such sentences which reflects the conscience of the society and sentencing process has to be stern where it should be. There is a need to streamline the law which deals with the punishment for these offences. More stringent punishments should be included in the provisions.

The second step in curbing these crimes is awareness and education. Both, women and men need to be made aware of the several types of crime that can harm a woman, it’s effects on the victims and, the statutes that can protect the victim. it is also important that children be educated of these crimes from a young age. It is also important to educate women that it is their right to report these crimes and to destigmatise offences against women such as rape and dowry death.

The crimes against women are perhaps the only crime where the victim hides the crime better than the offender and where the victim lives in constant fear of people finding out. In a county which calls its women goddesses and considers the presence of a daughter in law to be the presence of goddess Lakshmi, the hundreds of rapes and dowry deaths narrates an entirely different story. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 recognizes several crimes or offences which are committed against women. The statute also contains provisions which provide punishment to the offender for these offences.

However, until unless we create a society where women who have had the misfortune of becoming victims can go and report these crimes and when the concerned authorities consider these offences to be heinous crimes , these provisions are lifeless.

End-Notes:
  1. The Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860
  2. Chaitanya Mallapur–Crimes Against Women , available at https;www.indiaspend.com/crime-against- women-up-83-conviction-rate-hits-decadal-low-18239 (Visited on Jul 19th, 2020)
  3. A.S Anand, Justice for Women: Concerns and Expressions, (2002), pp.1-3)
  4. Chandan Mukherjee , Preet Rustagi, et.al., Crimes against Women in India
    - Economic and Political Weekly , Vol 36, No. 43 (October 27th – November 2nd , 2001)
  5. Susmita Pakrasi, ‘Significant’ increase in cybercrime against women during lockdown: Experts, Hindustan Times, May 03, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/significant-increase-in-cybercrime-against-women-during-lockdown-experts/story-QNPwq5Jr1iAkAXzacLnc5K.html, (Visited on Jul 19th, 2020)
  6. State of H.P. v Mango ram, (2000) 7 SCC 224
  7. Vishaka and Ors v State of Rajasthan and Ors, (1977) 6 SCC 241

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