The filing of an FIR against actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui at Versova police station in Mumbai for allegedly molesting a woman on Sunday and a counter FIR by his wife have once again highlighted the misuse of laws on rape and molestation in India.
The fact that FIRs were filed following alterations between the two sides over parking only corroborate the widely held view on misuse of laws that were enacted primarily to protect women.
It’s nobody’s case that India is safe for women. In fact, one woman is raped every 30 minutes. In 2014, 36,735 rape cases were registered in the country. The number of molestation cases is much higher.
A change in rape laws in 2013 has expanded the definition of rape leading to further increase in reported cases. Over 3.3 lakh incidents against women are reported every year making it difficult for women to roam freely even in upwardly mobile urban middle class settings.
Unfortunately, the laws meant to protect women from sexual crimes and harassment are being misused to harass men, often at the instance of other men. This makes the job of policemen difficult.
Misuse of laws is not a new phenomenon. The anti-dowry law was misused to the extent that Parliamentary Standing committees, the Law Commission of India and many activists demanded a change to check its frequent misuse. Unwed sisters of accused men were deliberately named in the FIR by the victim to harass her in-laws’ family. Ailing and bedridden men and women in their eighties and nineties were seen in courts defending themselves against fake dowry charges.
Despite its rampant misuse, successive governments and the political class didn’t do much except making some statements.
Finally, the Supreme Court intervened and through a series of judgments judicially and judiciously amended the anti-dowry law to make it immune to misuse.
A similar intervention is needed to check the misuse of anti-rape/molestation laws.
Often rape cases are filed against men following failed relationships. This has to be treated as a different crime as the physical relationship is with consent.
This is all the more important because the new anti-rape law enacted in 2013 after the December 16 gang rape case is much harsher.
Advocate Shilpi Jain, who has represented many rape victims in high profile cases, said, “The new rape law treats women’s testimony as the final truth. It’s setting a dangerous trend where an accused is irrevocably indefensible and might be convicted regardless of what the truth might have been. Society and lawmakers need to think about it.”