According to a 2018 global poll of experts conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation, India is ranked as the most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence, harassment, and coercion into sex. To be the winner, taking home such a disgraceful title makes one wonder about the reasons for the humongous volume of such cases in India.
The trajectory of India since Independence has been remarkable in many aspects, from importing food in the 1960s to self-sufficiency in food grains production today, but the sexism in legislation still persists.
Misogyny is a running theme across all levels of the legal system in India, flowing so deep, it's almost impossible to flush it out. Ranjan Gogoi, who served as the Chief Justice of India for 2018-19 was accused of sexual harassment by a woman who served as a junior court assistant at that time. A special 3 judge bench of the supreme court looked into the matter but the focus of their investigation was a possible conspiracy to frame the former CJI instead of the misconduct allegations. This clarified the position of women in the eyes of the derisive framework that we call Indian law.
The representation of women in the judiciary system is murky and lacking to the bone. Out of 1098 sanctioned judges across High Courts in India, only 77 are women, whereas the honorable Supreme Court has the sheer strength of 4 female judges from the sanctioned strength of 34. India is deeply plagued with a patriarchal judicial system with having no woman who has ever served as the Chief Justice of India in its long spectacular history. The negative impact of this lacking representation is distinctly visible in the ignorant comments and conduct of judges, often making a mockery out of an atrocious crime like sexual harassment.
In 2020, a Karnataka High Court judge granted bail to the rape accused saying that he found it a bit difficult to “believe the woman’s statement”. Falling asleep after being raped is unbecoming of an Indian woman, it's not the way our women react summarises the gist of his outrageous words posing as a guide to being an ‘ideal’ rape survivor. In the same year, Madhya Pradesh High Court granted bail to a rape accused on the condition that he will request the claimant to tie a rakhi on him thus promising to protect her to the best of his abilities. This turned not only the law but the venerated act of tying rakhi into a joke as well. In a recent ruling, Gauhati High Court granted bail to a rape accused IIT student commenting that he is talented and a future state asset. This indirectly implies that the victim who is a student of the same institute is not valuable enough, thus disregarding the disposition of women as a whole.
It's 2021 and marriage is still considered as a license for non-consensual sexual intercourse in 32 countries including India. The lawmakers believe that the criminalization of marital rape would turn into an easy tool to harass husbands. So the legal system does what it’s best at, turning a blind eye to the dire situation of women suffering from the horror of marital rape, thus dissolving the concept of consent into marital duty.
The patriarchal codes of conduct have been imposed on women in a variety of cases, unmasking the misogynistic claws of the law. Women are greeted with a regressive judicial attitude. What the apex court has done over the years is look the other way, pretend they do not see it when women plead for basic rights and a fair structure. Many protests have taken place, multiple committees have been set up to bring changes and provide women with adequate legal protection but the fine prints show no change. This is often why women refrain from approaching the law to address their grievances.
For India to be truly called a “modern society” and not just have a facade of being one, immediate steps should be taken to reform the current legal framework which is detrimental to the goals of justice and equity that underlie the criminal justice system.