“She walked into the living room alongside her brother. They were wearing basic shorts and t-shirts as they were about to leave for their football class. Just as they were opening the door to leave the house, the doorbell rang. The girl opened the door and saw her aunt standing outside. After the greetings were done, the siblings left and the aunt was left with her sister in the living room. Once the siblings were back from their class their mother told the girl child that she should now stop wearing ‘revealing’ clothes as she is entering the youth stage and that it may attract the attention of people who molest girls/women. When the girl questioned her mother why did she suddenly ask her to stop wearing short clothes, the mother replied that the aunt who had come to visit her made her realise this fact.”
The above-mentioned snippet is a usual conversation that I have observed in an Indian household usually on a daily basis. There is a misconception among people of the older generations that are born approximately in the 1990’s or before that, that crimes against women, in particular, have increased due to the fact that women have now in contemporary times begun to adopt fashion from the western world. Usually, in western world countries like Australia, Canada, South America and so on, the fashion followed by women includes jeans, tops, short dresses, bikinis on the beach, denim shorts, backless tops and so on. It is a common sight there to also see couples kiss each other on the streets. But in India, it is not so. Indian fashion related to women traditionally includes salwar- kameez, sarees and kurtas. It is a tangent for Indian society to accept that due to globalization there will be an exchange in cultures and traditions among nations of the world which also includes how a person dresses himself/herself or themself. But generalizing that because a woman or a girl wears clothes which reveal her skin, she is molested or raped is not right. It is strongly unacceptable as a defence by the person who commits the crime.
The thought process of the Indian Society
Indian society has been witnessing changes as people are getting exposed to the world outside India not only by physically visiting those places but also by interacting with the local people of that places. Advancement in technology has resulted in people being aware about what changes take place throughout the world and what practices, traditions and customs they follow. The youth of today question every practice or tradition that is followed in India and if they receive logical reasons for practising the traditions only then do they follow it. In India and in Islamic nations, women are advised to wear clothes which cover their skin and men have no restrictions as such. Women are advised to do the same as society feels that if women wear clothes through which their skin is visible (for example, short skirts, dresses or sleeveless tops) then the men in their family or outside may get excited as they are not used to seeing women dress in such a manner.
This excitement may result in the molestation or rape of the girl/women who were wearing such clothes. People born before the millennium may have followed these restrictions blindly without questioning them as they were not exposed to the outside world to the extent which the youth of today is. But I as a woman want to state that it is the men who are wrong here. Everyone has the liberty to wear what they want and just because the men of the society or anyone else is uncomfortable with it or they are not used to seeing women dressed like that does not mean that will proceed to touch the women the way they want. This would result in a violation of the Right to Privacy and Right to Life as stated under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Crimes Committed against one which affects his/her/their Body
The Indian Penal Code, 1872 is a document in law which defines crimes, punishments if those crimes are committed, the jurisdiction of the courts where the person against whom the crime was committed can file a case and so on. The definitions have been divided into sections and sub-sections within the Code which makes it easier to read and apply it. As per the Indian Penal Code 1860-
Section 354. Assault or Criminal force to Woman with Intent to Outrage her Modesty
Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, [shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine].
Section 354A. Sexual Harassment and punishment for Sexual Harassment
(1) A man committing any of the following acts—
(i) physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or
(ii) a demand or request for sexual favours; or
(iii) showing pornography against the will of a woman; or
(iv) making sexually coloured remarks,
shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.
(2) Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (i) or clause (ii) or clause (iii) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
(3) Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (iv) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
Section 354B. Assault or use of Criminal force to Woman with intent to Disrobe. –
Any man who assaults or uses criminal force to any woman or abets such act with the intention of disrobing or compelling her to be naked, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
In the case of Ankariya v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused loosened the cords of the petticoat of the prosecution and made sexual advances towards her. The sexual advances included the ‘accused’ sitting on the prosecution’s waist and loosening the cords of her petticoat even when she tried to push him away. The accused was held guilty under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code for outraging a woman’s modesty as mentioned in the definitions above. This incident took place when the woman was wearing a simple petticoat which did not reveal her skin to a major extent. This proves that in this incident the man who committed this act did not do the same by looking at the clothes the woman was wearing but he did so with the intention of making physical contact with her or with the intention of molesting her.
Section 375 of Rape in the Indian Penal Code
A man is said to commit “rape” if he—
(a) penetrates his penis, to any extent, into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person; or
(b) inserts, to any extent, any object or a part of the body, not being the penis, into the vagina, the urethra or anus of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person; or
(c) manipulates any part of the body of a woman so as to cause penetration into the vagina, urethra, anus or any part of body of such woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person; or
(d) applies his mouth to the vagina, anus, urethra of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person, under the circumstances falling under any of the following seven descriptions –
Firstly —Against her will.
Secondly —Without her consent.
Thirdly —With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested, in fear of death or of hurt.
Fourthly —With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married.
Fifthly —With her consent when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by him personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent.
Sixthly —With or without her consent, when she is under eighteen years of age.
Seventhly —When she is unable to communicate consent.
Explanation 1 —For the purposes of this section, “vagina” shall also include labia majora.
Explanation 2 —Consent means an unequivocal voluntary agreement when the woman by words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication, communicates willingness to participate in the specific sexual act: Provided that a woman who does not physically resist to the front of penetration shall not by the reason only of that fact, be regarded as consenting to the sexual activity.
Exception 1 —A medical procedure or intervention shall not constitute rape.
Exception 2 —Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.
In the case of Mukesh vs. State for NCT of Delhi (Nirbhaya case), a woman was brutally gang-raped by the driver and some other male passengers in the bus which had left from Munirka bus stand towards Dwarka in Delhi. This happened on the cold night of 16th December 2012. The men who brutally gang raped her, tore her clothes and forcefully beat her. They also inserted an iron rod inside her body for their pleasure. Jyoti Singh has a male friend who was travelling with her that night who also fell prey to the trap of the people in the bus and was beaten by them. Jyoti and her friend were thrown out of the bus by these heinous men, half-naked. Neither Jyoti nor her friend was in a state of informing anyone to seek help on the road. Jyoti was admitted to the hospital by some random people travelling on the road where she took her last breaths before passing away. Jyoti had the will to make sure that the people who did this to her, be punished. She managed to share all the information that she had with the police who managed to catch the men and initiate proceedings against them. The convicts Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Kumar Singh, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Singh in Tihar Prison on March 20, 2020 after close scrutiny of the case through law for 7 years.
Reason why Clothes are not the Abettors to Molestation and Rape
The first case mentioned above is of molestation and the second one is of rape, both of which are serious punishable offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1872. When these incidents took place, the accused did not look at what the woman was wearing is what I have inferred. Even though these are only two examples, there are many cases in which women are molested and raped even when wearing clothes that do not show their ‘skin’, the way society frames it. Restricting any person from wearing their choice of clothing just because other people do not have the responsibility of maintaining that person’s privacy with respect to his/her/their body is wrong. The people who rape or molest others have to understand that they do not rule over the body of others and that they do not have the right to do anything with the body and minds of others by putting themselves in a position of dominance and authority. Women should not be told what they should wear or should not wear. Men have to limit their desires to when consent has been given to them by their partner in order to indulge or not indulge in an act. They cannot go outside and start being sexually involved with anyone and everyone. That violates the law of the country and disrupts the mental, physical and emotional health of the people against whom these crimes are committed.
There is a definite need for change required in the thought process of society. The world is evolving at a faster pace which is resulting in an exchange of ideas and cultures. One should not be judged by the way he/she/they dress/es because that is not why crimes take place. Crimes take place because of the unhealthy mentality that people possess and hold on to even in the 21st century. The first step towards making the world a better place to live in is by shattering this mentality and realising that the problem lies with your ‘unhealthy mentality being the cause of molests and rapes and not the type of clothes that the women wear.
- Indian Penal Code 1872.pdf