Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Conundrum of Choice

At a time when sexual harassment and violence are taking increasingly horrific forms, should we continue with the idea that sex obtained on a false promise – especially that of marriage – is also rape?
The Delhi High Court held a few days back that if a man has consensual sex with a woman after promising marriage and then later backs out, it amounts to rape.  The same high court had passed a similar order in another case in February 2010. However, the Bombay High Court took a different tack in June 2010, when it said that a sexual relationship on a false promise of marriage is not rape.
Apparently, Section 375(4) of the Indian Penal Code states that consent for sex obtained under a false pretext amounts to rape.
But if the sex is consensual and the woman has not been subject to physical violence or other forms of coercion, why should the genuineness (or lack of it) of the pretext matter? Blackmail and blandishment are two different things. When a woman gives in to a blandishment – a job, a promotion, a role in a film, marriage – she has exercised a choice in the hope of a future gain. She continues voluntarily in that sexual relationship as long as the gain is in sight. If that gain doesn’t materialise, to my mind, it was a wrong choice on her part. How does the sexual relationship then become a forced one, which is what rape is?
When someone pays in advance for a good or service and doesn’t get it, that becomes a case of cheating. Shouldn’t this also then be a case of cheating, instead of rape?
I am particularly intrigued by the false-promise-of-marriage line. Doesn’t it amount to saying that a sexual relationship is okay only if marriage is the ultimate objective? And that once a sexual relationship has been established, it has to result in marriage? Does this have a place in a modern society?
Consider a situation where a couple is engaged and they decide to get intimate. No force was used. The woman wasn’t drugged. She knew exactly what she was doing. At some point, the man realises that the relationship is not going to work out and that the marriage will be a disaster. So, instead of marrying and then divorcing, he decides to end it before the marriage. That could make him vulnerable to a rape charge by a vengeful woman. Would that be fair?
I think this provision stems from the mindset that a woman who has slept with a man is `spoilt’ and her life is finished because no one else will marry her. It is this mindset which prompts judges to broker compromises in rape cases, with the rapist offering to marry the victim. It is the same mindset which, therefore, says if a man `spoilt’ you by promising to marry you and then doesn’t, then he has ruined your life forever and so he should be considered a rapist.
Would it not be better for women to be counselled to accept the fact that they made a wrong choice of potential life partner and if the man had exploited them, they were better off without him and they should get on with their lives?
I realise it is not such a simple issue. Uneducated women or those from poor backgrounds may not be making an informed choice when they get into a sexual relationship with someone who has promised them something. There may definitely be an element of exploitation there. There is the example of the girl who was being sexually exploited by a councillor or MLA whom she had approached for help in getting a ration card. Such women need some kind of protection and relief and such men definitely need to be punished. But is Section 375(4) the right way to go about it?
I just feel that this IPC provision betrays an outdated mindset and takes away from the seriousness of the issue of rape, especially the brutal and perverted forms it is taking these days.
Perhaps mine is an armchair, ivory tower, even urbanised view, which is not in sync with ground realities. This post is really just to flag an issue and I would love to hear what other people, especially women, feel. Those reading this, please comment and please share so others can comment.
But please don’t make sexist or abusive or vulgar comments. Comments are moderated and such comments will not be posted.

A Red Rag Called Modi

Two things have prompted this post.
The first is an article a friend posted on Facebook. It is an open letter to Madhu Purnima Kishwar by a Gujarati Muslim writer, Zahir Janmohamed, in Kishwar had apparently visited Gujarat recently and posted favourable tweets about Gujarat under Narendra Modi. Janmohamed details all that is wrong in Gujarat, especially the status of Muslims there. The friend who posted this article had this to say in his status message: “A must read for 1. all Modi bhakts 2. all poor sods who believe in activists.”
That reminded me of an incident that is the second reason for this post. Last week, a report, Economic Freedom of the States of India, 2012, was released. Gujarat topped in that. At the launch ceremony, the noted agricultural economist and currently chairman of the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ashok Gulati, was speaking about the role of rural infrastructure in promoting agricultural growth and mentioned that the rate of growth of agriculture in Gujarat was 9.6 per cent a year for six years, which was unheard of. A friend sitting next to me, scoffed and whispered, “then how come BJP didn’t do well in the rural areas in the elections?” I pointed out that Gulati was citing figures. “No, but I’ve seen villages in Gujarat, some are worse than Bihar.”
The sub-text in my friend’s status message, Janmohamed’s article and my other friend’s refusal to accept agricultural growth figures for Gujarat is the same: How can anything good be happening in Gujarat, considering Narendra Modi is the chief minister? How can a man, during whose reign the 2002 riots happened, ever do anything good at all?
The way people get worked up whenever something positive is said about Modi or about Gujarat under his rule reminds me of the reaction in the Congress whenever the Gandhi family is criticised. All sense of perspective is lost as people scramble to deflect criticism (or praise in the case of Modi). Facts are ignored or (if they can’t be) some completely unrelated fact is quoted as a counter.
I am not getting into a debate on the facts about Gujarat. For one, I don’t know enough about the state. Besides, this post is less about Gujarat or Modi and more about how we refuse to accept facts if they don’t confirm our perceptions about something. I am using the Modi example only to show how a phenomenon that was largely limited to those committed to an ideology or political party has extended to general discourse.
Take Janmohamed’s open letter. He starts by saying he was keen to meet Kishwar because he had heard that she had once signed a petition calling for Modi’s dismissal after the 2002 riots. Shouldn’t that establish the fact that she is no Modi admirer and she is definitely not endorsing his government’s failure to control the riots? Why does the fact that she was once critical of the Modi government mean that she should not give credit where she thinks it is due?
Or take the case of my friend, who questioned the figures on Gujarat’s robust agricultural growth only because the BJP fared poorly in rural Gujarat. So now the soundness of official data has to be tested against electoral verdicts? Besides, why can’t Gujarat have a 9.6 per cent agricultural growth rate and also have villages whose conditions are worse than those in Bihar? How does one fact disprove the other? Going by that logic, India could not have posted over 9 per cent growth for three years in a row because there are parts of the country where conditions are worse than in sub-Saharan Africa. India is a land of contrasts and nowhere is this more obvious than in the economic condition of its people. If Mumbai can have an Antilla and Dharavi, why can’t Gujarat have both great agricultural growth and pressing poverty?
Take also the reactions when Tata Motors shifted its Nano plant from Singur in West Bengal to Sanad in Gujarat. (See my 2008 post on this.) Industrialists hailing Modi as prime minister material and king of kings is sickeningly over the top, yes, but what is wrong if they decide to put their money in a state with a good business environment? I am surprised that even people who criticise CSR (corporate social responsibility) as a concept on the grounds that businesses should be concerned only with profit are uncomfortable with Corporate India’s endorsement of Gujarat as an investment destination. If companies’ sole motive should be to run a business profitably, why should they bother about the ideology of the government in power? If they can invest in China, why not in Gujarat?
This kind of double standards does not augur well for debate and discussion in the country. When an innocuous tweet about Ahmedabad’s auto-rickshaw drivers going by the meter is seen as an endorsement of Modi, when his disgusting comment about Sunanda Tharoor is linked to her being groped (it turned out later that the groping happened before), it’s time to stop and reflect. Isn’t there a danger of such constant, and at times unfair, bashing backfiring? It allows Modi to paint himself as a victim of a biased mindset and, worse, convince people of the fact.
Keep the heat, by all means, on Modi on the 2002 riots and discrimination against Muslims and other real failures. But give credit where it is due. And don’t paint everyone who talks about one positive aspect of him or of Gujarat under him as a Modi admirer or BJP-RSS supporter in denial about the riots.
Kishwar also tweeted: “If I as much as say Gujarat roads are best in country, see Modi’s inclusive development for urself I become political untouchable. Why?”
Why, indeed?
Many readers of this post would have stopped reading mid-way, convinced that I am a Modi-bhakt. Earlier, whenever I would counter such biased views, I would preface my statement by saying I am not a Modi supporter, but today I wondered why I should do it. This blog is called Beyond Labels and the reason I started writing it is to air my views without the fear of being labelled (see Why this blog and why this name?). So go ahead and call me a Modi-bhakt. Because the Modi-bhakts call me a pseudo-secular. Chew on that.