Under the Indian Penal Code, crimes against women include rape, kidnapping and abduction, molestation, sexual harassment, torture, homicide for dowry, and the importation of girls. But critics have voiced concern over the vagueness of their definitions, particularly that of rape. Often, perpetrators of severe sexual attacks are charged with criminal assault on a woman with “intent to outrage her modesty,” an offense that carries a light penalty and is rarely enforced.
“Eve-teasing,” a common euphemism for sexual harassment or molestation in public places, goes mostly unreported. Many analysts attribute this to a culture of complicity and the government’s weak prosecution of such assault crimes. A study by the Hindustan Times found that in the last five years, fifty-one cases related to eve-teasing in the city of Jalandhar in Punjab were taken to court, and only five people were convicted, while thirty others were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
People around the world watched as thousands took to the streets in New Delhi in December 2012 following the gang rape of twenty-three-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Pandey. While similar protests were held in other metropolitan cities across the country, the protests in Delhi became so intense that the government imposed a curfew and sanctioned the use of force by its riot police. Domestic as well as international media coverage of these events helped fuel public outrage. The protesters made varied and lengthy demands for improving public safety for women, including calls to make public transportation safe; to encourage the police to be more responsive; to reform the judicial process, including reform to the Indian Evidence Act, the Penal Code, and the sentencing standards; and to generally provide for greater dignity, autonomy, and rights for women. As a result of the public outcry, a three-member committee chaired by legal expert Chief Justice J. S. Verma was convened to recommend changes to the criminal law on sexual violence. Based on the committee’s recommendations, the government passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act (2013), which addresses a series of concerns expressed by various women’s groups, but omits the criminalization of assault perpetrated by spouses or the armed forces.
By the end of this article, you might feel empowered by the protection and care that law has made available to them, so here is a quick preface of the rights:
- Right to maintenance
- Right to equal pay
- Right to dignity and decency
- Right against domestic violence
- Rights at workplace
- Right against dowry
- Right to free legal aid
- Right of private defense
- Right to not be arrested at night
- Right to register virtual complaints
- Right to Zero FIR
Right to maintenance
Maintenance includes the basic necessities of life like food, shelter, clothes, education, health care facilities etc. A married woman is entitled to get maintenance from her husband even after her divorce till she doesn’t remarry. Maintenance depends on the standard of living of the wife and circumstances and income of the husband. Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, puts an obligation on the husband to maintain her divorced wife except when the wife lives in adultery or refuses to live with her husband without reasonable cause or when both of them live separately by mutual consent. Under the aforesaid section, any Indian woman irrespective of her caste and religion can claim maintenance from her husband.
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 also facilities maintenance but to Hindu women only. Whereas, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 covers only Muslim woman.
Right to equal pay
We now have gender neutral laws. A male and a female is entitled to the same pay for the same work. The Code Of Wages Act, 2019 (repealing Equal Remuneration Act, 1976) provides for the same. It ensures payment of equal remuneration to both men and women workers for the same work or work of a similar nature. In the context of recruitment and service conditions, there will be no discrimination on the basis of gender.
Right to dignity and decency
Dignity and decency are women’s personal jewels. Anybody who tries to snatch and disrobe her modesty is considered a sinner and law very well entails its punishment.
Right against indecent representation is a depiction of a woman’s figure (her form or any body part) in any manner that is indecent, derogatory, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals, is a punishable offence.
Every woman has the right to live in dignity, free of fear, coercion, violence and discrimination. Law very well respects women’s dignity and modesty. The criminal law provides for the punishments for offences committed against women like Sexual Harassment (Sec. 354A), assault with intent to disrobe her (Sec. 354B) or to outrage her modesty (Sec. 354), Voyeurism (Sec. 354C), Stalking (354D) etc.
In case the woman herself is accused of an offence and arrested, she is dealt with decency. Her arrest and search should be made with strict regard to decency by a woman police officer and her Medical examination should be carried out by a woman medical officer or in supervision of a woman medical officer. In rape cases, so far as practicable, a woman police officer should register the FIR. Furthermore, she cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise except for a special permission of the Magistrate by a woman police officer.
Right against domestic violence
Every woman is entitled to the right against Domestic Violence with her by virtue of the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005. Domestic Violence includes within its ambit not only Physical abuse but also mental, sexual and economic abuse.
So, if you are a daughter or a wife or a live-in partner and are subjected to any of such abuses by your partner or husband or his relatives or by a person related to you by blood or adoption who live or have lived with you in a shared household, then you are well covered under the provisions of Domestic Violence Act and may seek different remedies provided thereof. You may contact the women helpline no. “1091” and register your complaint. They will inform the police about your case. You may also approach the women’s cell of your area which you can find with help of google. They provide special services to such women and help them lodge their cases before the Magistrate after properly drafting their complaints. You may also approach the police to register your case.
Since the case of Domestic violence is cognizable in nature, the police are bound to register FIR and investigate thereto. But in case, it refuses to do so then you may write a letter stating your case to the Superintendent of police and post it. If SP feels that the information discloses a cognizable offence, then he may either himself investigate or direct his subordinate police officer to register the case and investigate it. In case, SP also denies you, you may directly approach the Magistrate having jurisdiction in your area, and move your application under sec. 12 of DV Act with the help of a lawyer for seeking desired relief(s) against Domestic Violence which include protection, custody, and compensation orders.
The Indian Penal code also provides protection to such women who are subjected to Domestic violence, under Sec 498A by punishing the husband or his relatives with imprisonment which may extend to 3 years and fine.
Rights at workplace
You have a right to have a ladies toilet where you work. At places, with more than 30 female workers, providing facilities for care and feeding of children is mandatory. Further, the Supreme Court and the Government had put in efforts to ensure the safety of women at workplaces. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan had laid down exclusive guidelines for protection of women from Sexual Harassment at workplace, following which, the Govt. in 2013, has enacted an exclusive legislation- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION and REDRESSAL) Act, 2013 for that end. So if any person at your workplace, asks you for sexual favors, or makes sexually colored remarks and whistles looking at you or sings obscene songs looking at you, touches you inappropriately, or shows pornography, then all that will constitute Sexual Harassment and you may complain to the Internal complaints committee which is required to be constituted by the employer at each office or branch with 10 or more employees. The District Officer is also required to constitute a Local Complaints Committee at each district, and if required at the block level. Apart from this, IPC also, penalizes Sexual Harassment under 354A by providing imprisonment of 1-3 years.
Right against dowry
Dowry system i.e. giving and taking of dowry by bride or bridegroom or by their parents at, before or after the marriage is penalized by Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. The Act defines “Dowry” as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the other but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies. If you give, take, or abet giving or taking of dowry, then you shall be punishable with a minimum imprisonment of 5 years and a minimum fine of Rs. 15,000.
Right to free legal aid
If you are an aggrieved woman, you are entitled to claim free legal services from the legal services authorities recognized under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 irrespective of whether you can afford legal services on your own. There are District, State, and National legal Services Authorities constituted at District, State, and National levels respectively. Legal services include assisting in the conduct of any case or other legal proceedings before any Court or tribunal or authority and advising on legal matters.
Right of private defence/ self-defence
It is a defensive right. You can cause hurt, grievous hurt, or even death in protecting your body or another person’s body from the assailant. But you can kill the assailant without attracting liability and punishment only in certain circumstances like:
When you feel that the assailant is about to cause your death or grievous hurt or commit rape, kidnapping. or abduction or if he intends to lock you in a room or throws or attempts to throw acid at you, then you can kill that person and law will protect you.
Right not to be arrested at night
Unless there is an exceptional case on the orders of a first-class magistrate, a woman cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise.
Right to register virtual complaints
The law gives women the provision for filing virtual complaints via e-mail, or writing their complaint and sending it to a police station from a registered postal address. Further, the SHO sends a police constable to her place to record her complaint. This is in case a woman is not in a position to physically go to a police station and file a complaint.
Right to Zero FIR
An FIR that can be filed at any police station irrespective of the location where the incident occurred or a specific jurisdiction it comes under, the Zero FIR can later be moved to the Police Station in whose jurisdiction the case falls.
This ruling was passed by the Supreme Court to save the victim’s time and prevent an offender from getting away scot-free.
Constitutional rights available to women in India-
- Fundamental right to equality before Law that is, equal protection of laws in India- Article 14
- Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. However, art 15(3) empowers the state to make any special provision for women and children -Article 15
- Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment or opportunity to any office under state and prohibits discrimination on the ground of sex- Article 16
- Freedom of speech and expression and freedom to practice any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business – Article 19
- Protection of life and personal liberty- Article 21
- Right to Privacy- Article 21
- Right to property- Art. 300-A
- Political rights- women reservation in, for instance, panchayats. Art 15 of the Constitution allows special provisions for women and children to be made for their welfare.
- Under the Legal Services Authorities Act, women and children are entitled to free legal aid.
- Under the Constitution of India, the Directive Principles of State Policy contain duties of the State to apply these principles while making laws. These principles state that the state shall direct its policies to secure that citizens, men, and women equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood, that there is equal pay for both men and women, provide free and compulsory education for children, and duty to improve public health. Whereas in case of violation of fundamental rights, these rights are enforceable, that is, a victim can seek legal redress through a court of law, the directive principles are only a guiding factor and its non-observance is not actionable before court of law.
This post has been written by Mehek Sandhu, IIIrd year