‘Mustn’t Sleep After Rape’: High Courts Redefine the ‘Ideal’ Woman

Video Editors: Vishal Kumar, Prashant Chauhan
Producer: Shohini Bose

Yet another attempt has been made to redefine the 'ideal' Indian woman. The latest being that, after being sexually assaulted or raped, a woman should not fall asleep, or otherwise, she would cease to be an 'ideal' Indian woman. This latest modification was added courtesy the Karnataka High Court.

The Karnataka High Court granted anticipatory bail to a rape accused recently because the complainant drank alcohol with him and slept after being allegedly raped.

The court asked her why she went to office at 11 pm, why did she sit and drink (alcohol) with the accused and why did she fall asleep after being raped. After all, as per the court, these are not the doings of an 'ideal' Indian woman.

But, What Are the Identifiers of an 'Ideal' Indian Woman?

Let me throw some light on this. Those who have read 'Stree-Dharm Prashnottari' by 'Geeta Press' are well aware of the perceived markers of the 'ideal' Indian woman. This book has been 'training' women to be 'good' for several years now. The book, first written in 1926, is still one of the best-selling books by 'Geeta Press' and has several editions.

Adaptations of the 'ideal' Indian woman, as portrayed in this book can be seen in various soap operas, television ads and on social media.

Shockers From Lawmakers and Law-Keepers

In Pune, the police asked human rights activist Varavara Rao's daughter, after his arrest, 'why no sindoor'?

The Gauhati High Court recently granted divorce to a man and said that his wife's refusal to wear ‘shaka‘ (conch shell bangle) and ‘sindoor‘ (vermillion) as per customs by a Hindu married woman meant her refusal to accept the marriage.

By now, you must have got an idea about what constitutes an 'ideal' Indian woman. A woman who listens to her parents, marries a man of their choosing and pursues a career path as per the desires of her parents.

A woman who, as per the former Women and Child Welfare Minister, Maneka Gandhi, can control her 'hormonal outbursts'.

Night curfews in women's hostels are also part of this training. Now, even courts have started referring to this portrayal, of the 'ideal' woman, while passing their judgments.

Karnataka High Court's Incident of Victim Shaming is Not the First

Consider these:

  • As per a study by the Indian Bar Association: 63% women don't report sexual harassment and suffer silently.
  • According to NCRB data, conviction rate in sexual harassment cases is only 18%

Unfortunately, the Karnataka High Court's incident of victim shaming is not the first. 'Peepli Live' director Mahmood Farooqui was acquitted in a rape case after fingers were pointed at the complainant, an American researcher and her character was questioned in court. It was said that the accused simply mistook the complainant's 'no' for a 'yes'.

Delhi High Court advocate Rebecca John, in a Facebook post, shared 16 arguments that are often heard during hearings in rape cases such as:

(Trigger Warning)

  • 'Doesn't look like she was raped’
  • 'Look at her clothes, she is inviting trouble'
  • 'Why did she leave home late at night'

Delhi National Law University professor Mrinal Satish's book 'Discretion, Discrimination and the Rule of Law' enlists a probe into 800 rape cases between 1984 to 2009.

According to the book, it has been seen that if the accused is known to the complainant or if the complainant is married or sexually active then the accused is likely to get reduced punishment.

The Laws of the Land

In the Karnataka rape case, the woman falling asleep after being raped is wrong because she is not married. Had she been married, she could fall asleep after being sexually assaulted by her husband because marital rape isn't considered rape at all in India.

Such are the laws in India, they often contradict each other. For example, in 2017, the Supreme Court, while hearing a petition, said:

(Graphics: The Quint)

The notion behind this is, How can a man rape his wife? Exception clause in Section 375 of IPC states that intercourse between a man and his wife, not below 15 years of age, does not amount to rape.

However, the same law considers consensual sex between boys and girls between the ages of 15-17 a crime.

In 2012, the POCSO Act stated that all individuals below the age of 18 were to be considered minors.

In 2015, Supreme Court rejected a marital rape petition, calling it a 'personal issue' and not a 'public cause'

We must understand, that an independent woman is not 'bad' or 'unideal'. As we strive to empower women, we must ask ourselves: are we preparing our men to respect independent women?

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