Overlooking Sexual Intent – An Analysis of Satish Ragde versus the State of Maharashtra

By Chethana V

Trigger warning: Sexual abuse, child abuse

Indian society follows a cyclical pattern where there is a need for a law to protect certain section of the population and such a law is enacted. A few years after it is enforced, there are cries of “Abuse! Overuse!” after which the lens of social welfare is replaced with the microscope of doubt. Every aspect of that law is examined, and hyper-technicalities to cut through the true intent and purpose of that legislation are developed.

The case of Satish Ragde v State of Maharashtra came to the Bombay High court on appeal from an order of the Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur and involved charges under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (referred to hereinafter as the POCSO Act). The Bombay High Court judgement that was pronounced on 19th January, 2021 has caused outrage. While multiple legal aspects of the judgement[1] and the nature of criminal law[2] have been discussed, this article examines the real world implications and the future of criminal trials in light of the present judgement. 

I. Brief Facts of the Case 

The case of the prosecution is that the accused took the child (who was aged 12 years old when the offence was committed) to his house under the pretext of giving her a fruit and proceeded to touch her breasts and attempted to remove her clothes. The mother of the minor child went looking for her, as the child did not come home. She noticed the accused coming down the stairs, and when she asked him for the whereabouts of her daughter, he denied knowing anything about it. However, the mother went outside his house and found the door bolted. When she unlocked it, the minor child was inside his house and was crying. After hearing her daughter, the mother took the minor child to the police station, where an FIR against the accused was lodged.

At the end of the trial, the accused was found guilty by the Sessions Court for commission of offences including Section 354 of the IPC (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), and Section 7 of the POCSO Act (Sexual Assault).

II. Judgement of the High Court 

The High Court acknowledged the following facts: 

  • That the minor girl’s age was 12 years at the time of occurrence of the crime.
  • That the testimony of the minor child and the mother corroborates what happened at the scene of the crime.
  • The accused pressed the breast of the child, and tried to remove her salwar.

The High Court then proceeds to examine whether ‘pressing of breast’ and ‘attempt to remove salwar’ would fall within the definition of ‘sexual assault’ as defined under Section 7 and punishable under Section 8 of the POCSO Act.

Section 7 of the POCSO Act states – “Whoever, with sexual intent touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person, or does any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration is said to commit sexual assault.”

The High Court held that the actions of the accused would not fall under Section 7 of the POCSO Act and acquitted the accused under the POCSO Act, confirmed the conviction under the above mentioned sections of the Indian Penal Code, and reduced his sentence.

III. POCSO Act as a Special Legislation

Prior to the enactment of the POCSO Act in 2012, crimes against children could be tried under the Indian Penal Code. The Indian Penal Code is an archaic colonial legislation, some fragments of which we are still battling as a progressive society. 

The IPC is also a highly gendered legislation, and the gender binary is very apparent. If a girl child was sexually assaulted prior to the enactment of the POCSO Act, the relevant provisions that could be used to convict the accused were – rape, and outraging the modesty of a woman. 

Prior to 2012, if a male child was sexually assaulted, and if the act was penetrative, the act could fall within the purview of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminialises unnatural sex. A minor male child could not report a case of non-penetrative sexual assault under the IPC, as there was no provision for that. The absence of a gender-neutral law that would protect children from sexual offences was felt, and the POCSO Act was enacted in 2012. 

The preamble of the POCSO Act begins with – “An Act to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences…”.

Some unique features of the POCSO Act are:

1. It is a gender-neutral legislation – it only refers to the perpetrator as “person”, and the victim as “child” (any person below 18 years of age).

2. It deals with:  –

  • Sexual Assault (explained above).
  • Penetrative Sexual Assault (if the penis or any object is interted into any part of the child’s body).
  • Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault (when a police officer/ member of the armed forces/ public servant/ staff of hospital/ staff of educational institution commits sexual assault on a child).
  • Sexual Harassment (harassment through words or gestures, showing a child porn, making the child exhibit any part of its body).

3. It does not use the words “rape”, “eve-teasing”, or “outraging modesty” like we see in the Indian Penal Code. This legislation has been created with the intent to ensure that technicalities and descriptions do not come in the way of the act being considered an offence.

4. A special court and a special public prosecutor will deal with offences under the POCSO Act.

While there may be overlaps between offences under the POCSO Act and the IPC, they are distinct laws that were enacted keeping different purposes in mind[3].

IV. Analysis of the Judgement

A. Emphasis on “Skin-to-Skin” Contact

Bombay High Court – “…In the instant case, having regard to the nature of the alleged act by the appellant and having regard to the circumstances, in the opinion of this Court, the alleged act fit into the definition of the offence as defined in Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code…” (paragraph 20) 

Section 354 of the IPC states – Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will there by 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. 

Assume that there is a case where a person tries to touch a minor boy by feeling his genitals over the child’s pants; this case cannot fall under Section 354 of the IPC as the gender of the minor child will prevent the same. However, going by the Bombay High Court’s reasoning of “skin-to-skin contact” in the present case, such cases will also not fall under Section 7 of the POCSO Act. Relegation of offences to the Indian Penal Code to the exclusion of the POCSO Act will have a direct impact on cases of sexual assault against male children, and children who do not conform to the traditional gender binary. 

Section 7 does not define physical contact. It can also be argued that the POCSO Act is firm in its silence about outlining the degrees of such physical contact, and creating the distinction of “skin-to-skin” or “over the clothes” sets a dangerous precedent as such interpretation goes beyond the letter of the law. 

B. Sexual Intent 

Bombay High Court – “…Admittedly, it is not the case of the prosecution that the appellant removed her top and pressed her breast. As such, there is no direct physical contact i.e. skin-to-skin with sexual intent without penetration.” (paragraph 26)

The intent to commit a crime is a cornerstone of criminal jurisprudence. In Section 7 of the POCSO Act, the term “sexual intent” is explicitly mentioned. 

It is clear from the facts of the present case that the accused removed the child from the mother’s custody under false pretences, took her to a place where she was alone with him, touched her breasts and tried to remove her salwar. This is not just a case of brushing past the child’s breasts, or inadvertently touching her. This is a calculated and deliberate attempt of isolating the child from her mother and committing these sexually motivated acts.  

The High Court has not given importance to the intention behind the act of touching a minor girl’s breasts, and this is a dangerous precedent. Many cases of child sexual harassment occur within the family structure, and the perpetrator is usually somebody known to the child. A common form of sexual assault is touching the breasts or the child’s genitals through the clothes in a swift manner that will not appear abnormal to the world that is watching. Children may not always be mature or aware to realise the motivation behind such touches or actions, and thus, it is the duty of the Court to infer such intention from the facts and circumstances.

C. Observations about the Nature of Punishment under the POCSO Act

Bombay High Court – “…The punishment provided for offence of ‘sexual assault’ is imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine. Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offence, in the opinion of this Court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required…” (paragraph 18)

It is a settled legal principle that in cases tried under the POCSO Act, a conviction can lie on the basis of the victim’s testimony alone, as long as the same is coherent and stable. In the present case, the High Court has not disputed the victim’s testimony, and has even mentioned that the accused could not discredit the minor child as a competent witness. 

Under these circumstances, it is strange that the High Court should want “stricter proof”. In addition, the present judgement almost makes it seem like since the punishment under the POCSO Act is stringent, the accused should not be convicted under it. It is also disconcerting to note that the High Court did not consider touching a minor girl child’s breasts a serious allegation, and wanted something “more serious”.  If Courts start creating a hierarchy of crimes against children on the basis of a very subjective interpretation of the “seriousness” of the crime, it will defeat the entire purpose of an enactment that intends to prevent all crimes that fall under its broad scope. 

Further, the purpose of any criminal legislation is deterrence. This is more so in the case of the POCSO Act, a legislation that was created because the existing criminal law framework was both insufficient and ineffective in dealing with crimes against children. 

The nature of punishment cannot be a reason for acquittal. Yes, the nature of punishment under the POCSO Act is stringent, and that is because the crime that it addresses is that serious. 

D. Effect of this Judgement in Court Proceedings

In any criminal trial, witnesses are crucial to both the prosecution as well as the accused. The accused will be given an opportunity to cross examine the witnesses through a lawyer. Unlike movies where the witness confesses to the crime under the protagonist lawyer’s brilliant cross examination, real-life court situations involves more of breaking into a sweat because of the lack of ventilation than breaking under pressure. 

In trials under the POCSO Act, the minor child will have to narrate the sequence of events to different stakeholders. The minor child will also be cross examined by the accused’s lawyer. While there are provisions for a child-friendly court where the minor child will not have to see the accused and with the least amount of discomfort for the child, the child will have to answer some unpleasant but crucial questions regarding the incident.

The effect of this judgement can be felt in Sessions courts across the country, where the child will be asked if the accused put their hand inside their clothing, or outside it, and to describe the exact nature of the touch. In many cases, fear and shock may prevent a child from remembering exactly how they were assaulted. For children below the age of six, they may not even register or understand the significance of a touch over or under their clothes to convey the same clearly. 

While the law does not expect the child to remember or answer in excruciating detail, this ‘direct physical contact’ test will definitely affect the way POCSO trials are conducted. 

V. Conclusion 

The Bombay High Court judgement, unless appealed, will create an additional standard for offences under the POCSO Act that was not intended in the first place, and will also detrimentally affect future trials and proceedings. Exceptions cannot be carved out against the grain of the enactment, and hyper technicalities cannot substitute the word of the law. 

Chethana is a lawyer practising in Chennai. She deals with cases in the family courts, trial courts, and in the Madras High Court. Her e-mail ID is advchethana@gmail.com

Views expressed in the article are personal and the author’s own. 

[1] Mandhani, Apoorva. ‘”Absurd interpretation” — experts say HC’s POCSO order in groping case wrong on many levels’. The Print. 25 January 2021. https://theprint.in/judiciary/absurd-interpretation-experts-say-hcs-pocso-order-in-groping-case-wrong-on-many-levels/591873/.

[2] Chander, Mani. ‘Why Bombay HC’s “sexual assault under POCSO needs skin-to-skin contact” observation is deeply problematic’. Times of India. 25 January 2021. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/why-the-bombay-high-courts-judgment-acquitting-man-under-pocso-is-completely-flawed/articleshow/80437238.cms.

[3] Ralph, John S. ‘The Distinction Between Section 7 of the POCSO Act and Section 354 of the IPC’. Live Law. 26 January 2021. https://www.livelaw.in/columns/pocso-section-7-section-354-ipc-sexual-assault-bombay-high-court-skin-to-skin-168924.

Households as Workspaces: Towards the Safety of Women Domestic Workers in India

by Mouli Banerjee

On April 28, workplaces around the world commemorated workers who have suffered illness or injury and even death, due to workplace-related hazards and incidents. It is recognized as the “International Day of Mourning” for workers, or what International Labour Organisation has declared the ‘World Day for Safety and Health at Work’. Yet, on the occasion of days like this, one must keep in mind the workers who do not get sufficiently mourned, whose rights are not safe enough and whose workplaces are barely recognised. The elusive safety and security at purportedly “unconventional” spaces of work, like the household, thus deserve special scrutiny.

Paid domestic work, around the world, is not sufficiently recognised or regulated, consequently exposing such workers to vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are rooted in the unequal societal structures. One on hand, there is a sense of servitude attached to domestic work, derived from a historically feudal understanding of power relations.  On the other hand, there is an assumption that domestic work and the domestic space itself are mostly feminine, which results in it not being seen at par with other male-dominated work. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) data suggests that globally, as many as 53 million people are employed as domestic workers [1]. The economic vulnerability of the work opens up all domestic workers to risks of psychological and physical abuse.  Given that about 83% of all domestic workers around the world are women [2], these risks are magnified for them.

This reluctance to acknowledge the household as a workplace is misogynist and dangerous. It exposes women engaged in domestic work to slavery, sexual harassment of various degrees, and other human rights abuses. However, in context of the safety and health in workspaces, it is important to recognize that such women lack safety at work not only because of their gender. The vulnerability of women domestic workers in India, similar to global patterns, not just is rooted in the nature of the work itself but also directly related to the ways in which Indian societies view structures of caste, class and gender.  Women who work in other households, mainly engaged in menial labour, mostly belong to a lower economic group. Class and often caste hierarchies coincide, for women in domestic work, making them the marginalised “Other” women on multiple levels. Thus, they become the less important workers of the economy, and their workplace loses out in priority, to other conventional workspaces, when it comes to protecting the safety and security of workers.

The problem with the way the government has dealt with the rights of domestic workers in India lies precisely in this- that while the laws recognise such women as vulnerable to sexual abuse at their workplaces, it does a poor job of recognising domestic work as work in itself. By failing to recognise the fact that the economic insecurity suffered by such women contributes to the risks to personal security that such work entails, the laws in place in India fail to provide for the safety and health of these women at their workplaces.   

At the very outset, one must note that globally, almost 10.5 million domestic workers are actually children [3]. In India too, children are forced to work as domestic help, and feed into the vicious cycle of physical and sexual abuse. Yet, while such employment of children in India is criminalised, our national labour laws do not recognise adult domestic work at all. Domestic workers are excluded from the Factories Act 1948 (no. 63 of 1948) and the Minimum Wages Act, No. 11 of 1949, for example. It is up to state governments to issue notifications on minimum wages for domestic workers, but only a few states, like Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have issued such notifications [4].  Domestic workers, thus, fall within the category of unorganised labour, and this further lack of regulating mechanisms also means added difficulty in collating substantial nation-wide data on women engaged in such work. Locally concentrated studies by several non-governmental organisations suggest problems such as lack of specified work hours, irregular payment or even non-payment of wages, lack of holidays, added with verbal and often physical abuse. This economic insecurity also is a deterrent when it comes to speaking up against instances of physical and sexual abuse, for fear of being unemployed.

The lackadaisical approach of the legislature towards this is further evident in the fact that domestic workers have been included in the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008 (Act 33 of 2008) only after an intervention by the Supreme Court [5]. Again, their inclusion within the purview of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, was not without struggle and even within it, loopholes remain.

For the longest time, there were no laws at all to protect women from sexual harassment at workplaces in India. The Supreme Court’s Vishaka Guidelines (Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan, 1997) were the primary framework followed in case of such abuse. And yet, when finally in 2010 the National Commission for Women submitted a draft on Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill to the Parliament of India, it too did not include domestic workers. The authorities purportedly argued that the lack of witnesses inside a household would make it difficult to prove instances of sexual harassment, and hence households were excluded from the definition of workplaces. It was only after severe criticism and protest from several quarters, that the Act included domestic workers [6].

However, while in case of other workplaces, the Act mandates the creation of an Internal Complaints Committee, which must take immediate action when a complaint of sexual harassment is made by an employee, in case of domestic workers, this is not possible. The law mandates that every district must have in place a Local Complaints Committee instead, which a woman domestic worker may approach, in case of sexual harassment. This makes their inclusion into the law ineffective in practice, because, added to economic vulnerability of their situation, mistrust in government authorities results in domestic workers’ reluctance in approaching such institutions.

One could argue that unionising domestic workers, in order to make them aware of their economic as well as personal rights can go a long way in redressing this.  There are indeed several workers’ unions that have been working towards this, like the National Domestic Workers Movement, for example, which has branches in 23 states across the country [7], a lot still remains to be done. Another regulating mechanism could be placement agencies. Yet, commentators like N. Neetha have shown how such recruitment agencies instead often add to the abuse, by withholding wages and providing inadequate training. They are also often unregistered themselves, and the lack of any concrete state mechanism to regulate and monitor such agencies allows them to evade legal supervision[8].

Thus, when talking of the safety and security of employees at a workplace, in the specific context of women domestic workers in India, one cannot separate the legal reforms required in labour laws and in laws protecting from personal assaults. The government, thus, not only needs to modify labour laws applicable within the country, but recognize its responsibility vis-à-vis international laws as well.

Global data from 2014, by the International Trade Union Confederation, estimates that millions of migrant workers from poor counties including India are employed as domestic workers in the Gulf countries, and of them, about 2.4 million women end up in slavery [9]. Yet, in spite of being a signatory to several international labour conventions, India is not among the mere 22 countries that have ratified the ILO Domestic Workers Convention of 2011 (C189) [10]. The convention recognises that not only are most domestic workers women, but many of them are “migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination”, and puts specific focus on developing countries, where because of “historically scarce opportunities for formal employment, domestic workers constitute a significant proportion of the national workforce and remain among the most marginalized” [11]. In light of this, India’s reluctance to ratify this convention underscores the bias inherent in India’s legal mechanisms.

It is interesting that the International Labour Organisation itself recognises the need for safety in domestic work as a separate rubric, by celebrating International Domestic Workers’ Day on June 16,   to commemorate the adoption of the above mentioned convention [12]. The ILO commemoration in 2016 brings into focus the need for the participation of the employers, or owners of households, in a dialogue on the protection of the rights of domestic workers. This reluctance of the employers to participate towards the cause is evident in India as well, as surveys by NGOs like Jagori attest [13]. The household cannot truly be regulated as a workspace, then, if the employers do not come together and recognise their responsibilities towards their employees.

In conclusion, on the occasion of the ‘World Day for Safety and Health at Work’, in the specific context of women domestic workers in India, one cannot ensure safety or health for the women at risk without first recognising and regulating their workspaces, and this can be achieved only through multiple levels of collaboration between the government, the society and the household itself.


[1] ‘Who are Domestic Workers?’, http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/domestic-workers/WCMS_209773/lang–en/index.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] ‘Ending Child Labour in Domestic Work’, ILO 2013, http://www.ilo.org/ipecinfo/product/download.do?type=document&id=21515

[4] Cf. ‘A Report on Domestic Workers: Conditions, Rights and Responsibilities A study of part-time domestic workers in Delhi’, Jagori, http://www.jagori.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/01/Final_DW_English_report_10-8-2011.pdf  , Page 9-10

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, http://www.iitbbs.ac.in/notice/sexual-harrassment-of-women-act-and-rules-2013.pdf

[7] Cf. ‘A Report on Domestic Workers: Conditions, Rights and Responsibilities A study of part-time domestic workers in Delhi’, Jagori, http://www.jagori.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/01/Final_DW_English_report_10-8-2011.pdf, Pages 8-11.

[8] Neetha, N. 2008.‘Regulating Domestic Work’. Economic and Political Weekly,Vol. 43, No. 37, September 13, 2008

[9] ‘Facilitating Exploitation: A Review of Labour Laws for Migrant Domestic Workers in GCC Countries’, ITUC Legal and Policy Brief, Pages 1, 7. http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/gcc_legal_and_policy_brief_domestic_workers_final_text_clean_282_29.pdf

[10] Ratifications of C189- (Convention Concerning Decent Work For Domestic Workers)  http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:2551460

[11] C189 – Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:2551460

[12] ‘Decent Work for Domestic Workers begins at home’, http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/domestic-workers/events-and-training/WCMS_371983/lang–en/index.htm

[13] Cf. ‘A Report on Domestic Workers: Conditions, Rights and Responsibilities A study of part-time domestic workers in Delhi’, Jagori, http://www.jagori.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/01/Final_DW_English_report_10-8-2011.pdf, Page 20

Redrawing Resistance: Expressions of young women on sexual harassment in public

by Mangalam Sridhar

A painting, dark and grim on one side, bright and happy on the other. Depicting the ideal picture of happy women on the left, and the everyday reality of women, because of the violence they face, on the right. This was among the 50 works of art on display at the Lalit Kala Akademi between April 15 and 17, 2016. The works were a part of the ‘Redrawing Resistance’ exhibition, which showcased the expressions of young women on sexual harassment in public places. The exhibition was organised by PCVC, in collaboration with the US Consulate and WCC.

The art exhibition, and the events around it, were the result of a workshop on gender sensitization and sexual harassment with students of Women’s Christian College(WCC) conducted by PCVC at WCC. The participants were city students, and survivors of domestic violence associated with PCVC. As an exercise in art therapy, the participants were asked to express street sexual harassment, and the violence that they face as they navigate the world around them. The end products stood testimony to the fact that every woman experiences violence differently, and expresses it in her own way. 

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One of the participants made a pot art which showed the different goals and dreams of a woman and how they are restricted once she is married. One showed how women are judged based on their outfits and another displayed how women show one face to the world and have another face inside them that they are not confident enough to reveal.

What was most striking perhaps was the work of the survivors. They told their stories through art, giving the world a small idea of the struggles they have faced, and continue to face. One of the survivors, had depicted her story in two sections. One section is red and the other is green. Both are covered with flowers and beads, but the red section shows fading flowers and the larger green one is full of color showing hope. This represented her life- the attack, after which she faced a lot of discrimination in the society. The art exhibition gave her the confidence and strength to portray her story and her face to the world with her head held high.

 The focus, through the three days, was on sexual harassment that women face on an everyday basis in public spaces, and the need to bring an end to it. And everything from the decor to the discussion reflected this. Apart from the art-work, the walls of the room were adorned with posters of women with slogans about reclaiming public spaces (#oorusuthify): stop objectifying us, stop treating our bodies as public spaces, and stop dictating to us about what to wear or where to go. 

The exhibition was inaugurated by Ariel Pollock, Public Affairs Officer, US Consulate. According to a study conducted in 2012, 7 out of 10 girls are subjected to harassment, she stressed. She also said that, Sexual Harassment is not just an Indian issue, it’s a global issue. Prasanna Gettu, Founder and CEO of International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, said, we all are moving forward to resilient, resourceful, violent-free lives.

The inaugural session was dominated by poetry. Sharada and Michelle wrote the work and it was performed by Sharada, Michelle and Pooja, setting the tone for the weekend. “I am not the light. I am not the darkness. I am not good. I am not evil. I am not a doormat. I am not the temple bell. I am not your mother. I am not your sister. I don’t need to be. I refuse to be in the hierarchy of this patriarchy. I refuse to be held responsible for being who I need to be,” the poets exclaimed. 

On Day 2, Paromita Vohra’s “Unlimited Girls” was screened, followed by a discussion on dealing with sexual harassment. The participants raised concerns about why reacting to sexual harassment is not easy, and discussed ways in which they could act in future, including being legally literate. 

The organisers are planning to take the exhibition to other places in the city, in order to create more awareness about sexual harassment. 

Consent, not culture, should drive ‘marital rape’ debate

In the last few years, there has been a lot of talk in India about sexual violence, especially stranger rape. Starting with the December 2012 gangrape of Jyoti Singh, the discourse on ‘safety’ and ‘protection’ of women has taken on several dimensions. There are apps that can alert your family if you’re in danger, clothes that make your rapist’s job difficult. There are calls for increased policing, for cutting down on night shifts for women, for not letting women use cell phones to prevent rape… The list is endless. And most items on the list are problematic, because these ‘good intentions’ come from a very flawed understanding of the problem.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 10.41.43 am

Screenshot of written reply given by Minister of Women and Child Development in Rajya Sabha on March 10, 2016. The reply is copied word-for-word from an earlier reply to a different question on marital rape, given by the Ministry of Home Affairs in April 2015.

And it is this same lack of understanding that lies at the root of the Govt’s latest reply in Parliament on maritalrape. “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc.,” Union Minister Maneka Gandhi said in a written reply on March 10. This is the entirety of the Minister’s reply on the issue of marital rape. (It’s also exactly the same reply given by the Ministry of Home Affairs to another question on marital rape back in April 2015, so at least, they have been completely consistent in their stand!)

Meanwhile, the Govt is yet to decriminalise consensual gay sex — or indeed any ‘unnatural’ sexual activity including anal sex, oral sex, and the whole gamut of sexual activity that isn’t penis-in-vagina intercourse. While a curative petition is waiting to be heard in the Supreme Court, the Govt has, at the latest instance, refused to take a stand on the issue.

As many have pointed out, right now in India, rape is legal but consensual sex isn’t. And the reason for this is our understanding of rape itself: ‘Indian rape’ is not about consent. It’s not about the mental and physical trauma that the victim undergoes. Instead, it is about the ‘sexual purity’ of a woman, and the honour of her family. Anything that takes away either is wrong — and therefore, as members of the Home Affairs committee said back in 2013, “if the marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress and the Committee may perhaps be doing more injustice.”

By corollary, ‘Indian sex’ isn’t about consent either. Nor is it about mutual pleasure. Sex within a marriage is about duty, honour and reproduction for a woman. Any sex outside of this definition is not recognised as sex at all, and automatically becomes either ‘unnatural’, or ‘rape’.

While the Minister’s reply in Parliament is infuriating, not just for the views there but also the absolutely flippant nature in which they were presented, outraging about just her, or just this government will not help much. The political class feels that “marital rape has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage” and society doesn’t feel differently. The challenge before civil society and liberal media right now is to shift the debate away from ‘culture’, and steer it towards consent, or the lack of it. The challenge is to stop focusing on ‘family honour’, and start focusing on the physical autonomy of adult women.

Until that happens, until our euphemisms for rape, in all languages, continue to revolve around ‘loss of chastity’, rape and sex will continue to come with unnecessary prefixes.

See Also: Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Rape

Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment at the workplace, which India’s criminal laws often group with street harassment, is nevertheless a distinct category of gender violence. It is defined by its occurrence in a ‘workplace’, or any physical or virtual space where individuals are employed to work, either formally or informally, with or without remuneration. Under the newly passed Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the ‘workplace’ can include any public or private sector organisation; a ‘dwelling place or house’ where individuals may be employed as domestic workers; the unorganised sector; or any place that an employee may visit as part of her job, including the transportation that her employer may provide for this purpose.[1]

Workplace sexual harassment, as defined by the new law, refers to any unwelcome sexual behaviour, either directly or by implication, and includes physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favours; making sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography; or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.[2] The law also address sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment, interferes with the victim’s work, affects her health or safety, or is accompanied by any implicit or explicit preferential or detrimental treatment or threats to alter her employment status.[3] Moreover, except in the case of domestic workers, a woman who files a complaint of workplace harassment does not have to be employed at the workplace where the offence has occurred. Thus, even a customer at a store or a client at a company can make a complaint of workplace harassment.[4]

Know the law

The last year has been a landmark year for gender violence legislation in India; in April 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 came into force, legally obligating employers to address workplace harassment. This law is based on the Vishaka Guidelines, which were formulated by the Supreme Court in 1997 in response to the landmark case of Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan and others.[5]

The new law draws on the principles of equality and the right to life enshrined in the Indian Constitution, as well as on the right to a safe working environment while practising any profession, occupation, trade or business. In emphasising the right to work with dignity, without having to face sexual harassment, it also draws from international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which India ratified in 1993.

Under the new law, employers are expected to handle complaints of workplace harassment by setting up an Internal Complaints Committee, which should be led by a senior female employee.[6] Moreover, every district is expected to have a Local Complaints Committee to handle complaints from establishments with fewer than 10 employees, which may not have the human resources to constitute a fair and unbiased committee.[7] This law imbues Complaints Committees with the powers of a civil court.[8] If the committee finds the alleged harasser to be guilty, then it can make a recommendation to the employer (or the District Officer) to take action against that person, and can also recommend that the harasser monetarily compensate the victim. The Committee must complete its inquiry within 90 days, and the employer or District Officer must act upon the recommendations of the Committee within 60 days of receiving them.[9]

Employers are also expected to provide a safe working environment for all employees, to prominently display signs and notices detailing the consequences of workplace harassment, to organise workshops for employees on the new law, and to assist the complainant if she chooses to file a criminal case against her alleged harasser.[10] All Complaints Committees must also submit annual reports to the government. If an organisation fails to form a properly functioning Committee, it can be fined up to Rs. 50,000; if, after being fined, it has still not complied with its duties under this law, it could face the cancellation of its license or registration.[11]

The new law has attracted criticism for a number of reasons: the most troubling is the inclusion of a provision that encourages ‘conciliation’ before launching an inquiry.[12] Thus, the Committee’s first task when handling a complaint of workplace harassment may be to attempt some kind of settlement between the complainant and the alleged perpetrator, and a full inquiry will only be conducted if this is not successful.

Moreover, the new law includes a safeguard against ‘false’ complaints, giving the Complaints Committee the authority to recommend action against a woman making a malicious complaint. While it also states that the absence of proof alone is not enough reason to suspect a false complaint, and that the malicious intent of the complainant must be proved before action is taken against her, this condition may nevertheless deter victims from coming forward to report workplace harassment.[13]

In terms of criminal law, as with street sexual harassment, the newly-introduced Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code (under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013) can be used in cases of workplace sexual harassment, with ‘physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures’, ‘a demand or request for sexual favours’ and ‘showing pornography against the will of a woman’ being punishable with imprisonment up to three years, or a fine, or both[14]; and ‘making sexually coloured remarks’ being punishable with imprisonment for up to one year, or a fine, or both.[15]

In addition, assault or criminal force intended to ‘outrage [a woman’s] modesty’, under Section 354, is punishable with imprisonment of at least one year and up to five years, in addition to a fine[16]; offences under Section 509, including any ‘word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of any woman’, can be punished with imprisonment up to three years, in addition to a fine.[17]

Keeping count

There is no reliable data available as yet on the number of cases that are reported to Internal and Local Complaints Committees under the new workplace harassment law. The National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) has recorded the number of cases filed under Section 354 (‘assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty’, referred to in pre-2012 reports as ‘molestation’) and Section 509 (‘’insult to the modesty of women’ through words, gestures or acts, referred to in pre-2012 reports as ‘sexual harassment’). Both these sections extend beyond workplace sexual harassment to include other forms of gender violence as well, such as street harassment. Table 1, as well as Figures 1 and 2, summarize the past six years of NCRB data. These figures are also included in Prajnya’s report on street sexual harassment.


Table 1: Sexual Harassment and Assault Cases Filed, NCRB

Year 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Section 354 cases filed 40413 38711 40613 38711 42968 70739
Section 509 cases filed 12214[18] 11009[19] 9961[20] 11009[21] 8570[22] 12589[23]

Figure 1                                                           


Figure 2


According to an opinion poll conducted by Oxfam India and the Social and Rural Research Institute, titled ‘Sexual Harassment at Workplaces in India 2011-2012’, 17% of working women in India say they have experienced workplace sexual harassment. The survey covered 400 women in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Durgapur, across both the formal and the informal sectors. Of these, 66 respondents (17%) reported that they had faced a total of 121 incidents of workplace harassment. Of these, 102 incidents were non-physical, while the remaining 19 were cases of physical harassment.[24]

The survey was conducted prior to the passage of the new law requiring the establishment of Complaints Committees. It found that the majority of these victims did not take any formal action against their harassers, due to fear of losing their jobs, the absence of a formal complaints mechanism at their workplace, fear of stigmatization, and lack of awareness of their legal rights. The survey also found that the women most vulnerable to workplace harassment were those working as labourers (29%), followed by domestic workers (23%) and those working in small scale manufacturing (16%).[25]

Prominent cases

  1. Statesman Case

In a case going back to 2002, Rina Mukherji, a reporter at Kolkata-based newspaper The Statesman, fought to be reinstated after she was fired for alleging that the paper’s news coordinator, Ishan Joshi, had sexually harassed her. In February 2013, eleven years after the incident was reported, the Industrial Tribunal awarded her full back wages from the time of her termination, as well as reinstatement to her original position.[26]

  1. Prasar Bharati Case

In another case, two All India Radio (AIR) employees were fired and one suspended by public broadcaster Prasar Bharati in April 2013, following complaints of workplace harassment from over 25 radio jockeys (RJs). The complainants alleged that the harassment had been going on for two years, and Prasar Bharati initiated an internal inquiry into the matter.[27]

As of February 2014, in response to incidents of senior officials harassing junior female employees of the organization, Prasar Bharati has prepared a draft memorandum of understanding with the National Commission of Women. The memorandum proposes a joint action that will engage the organization’s women’s panel to train staff in acceptable behaviour, help staff distinguish between acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour and explain what sexual harassment constitutes to its 34,000-member workforce. If sealed, this will reportedly be the first attempt by a government body to sensitize its employees to sexual harassment at the workplace.[28]

  1. Sun TV Case

In March 2013, a newsreader at Sun TV in Chennai alleged that news editor V. Raja had maliciously assigned her to the early morning news slot, saying that he would only change her shift if she gave in to his sexual advances, and threatening to fire her if she tried to take action against him. She also said that Raja had tried to speak to her and text her late in the night, and that Raja’s aide, Vetrivendan, had also made advances towards her, offering her a pay raise in return. In the absence of a separate criminal law on workplace harassment, charges against Raja were filed under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, which had been passed in response to the street harassment-related death of college student Sarika Shah in 1998. In March 2013, V. Raja was arrested, granted bail and reportedly permitted to return to work in spite of the police complaint against him. The complainant was reportedly suspended from work the very next day.[29] However, according to the Network of Women in Media, India, a professional network of women journalists and media persons in the country, the complainant’s ordeal did not end here; she allegedly received death threats and could not find employment for several months as media houses shunned her.[30]

In December 2013, the complainant was finally given a job at Polimer TV, a Tamil news channel, and on July 1st, 2014, a metropolitan court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant to V. Raja. The case continues to be sub-judice.[31]

[1] Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, http://wcd.nic.in/wcdact/womenactsex.pdf, accessed 26th October 2013. Section 2(o) defines the ‘workplace’.

[2] See above note 1. Section 2(n) defines ‘sexual harassment’.

[3] See above note 1. Section 3(2).

[4] See above note 1. Section 2(f).

[5] Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan and others (JT 1997(7) SC 384). This case involved the gang-rape of Bhanwari Devi, a government-employed social worker who had attempted to prevent a mass child marriage in her village in Rajasthan, and was subsequently attacked by five men seeking revenge for her actions.

[6] See above note 1. Section 4(2)(a).

[7] See above note 1. Section 6-7.

[8] See above note 1. Section 11(3). There are some exceptions: for instance, in the case of domestic workers, the Local Complaints Committee can forward the complaint to the police, to be registered under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code.

[9] See above note 1. Section 13(4).

[10] See above note 1. Section19.

[11] See above note 1. Section 21 outlines the reporting duties of Complaints Committiees; Section 26 lays out penalties for noncomplying employers.

[12] Vasant, K., ‘New Workplace Sexual Harassment Law “Already Out Of Date”’, India Real Time Wall Street Journal, 29th April 2013, http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2013/04/29/new-workplace-sexual-harassment-law-already-out-of-date/, accessed 2nd September 2014. See also Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013; Section 10 of the Act recommends conciliation ‘before initiating an inquiry’ (see above note 1).

[13] See above note 1. Section 14(1-2).

[14] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(7), http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf, accessed 8th October 2014. Section 7 of the Act inserts Section 354A into the Indian Penal Code. Section 354A(1)(i-ii) lists the offences, and Section 354A(2) lays out sentencing rules.

[15] See above note 14. Section 354A(I)(iv) lists the offence, and Section 354A(3) lays out sentencing rules.

[16] Indian Penal Code, Section 354, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/203036/, accessed 8th October 2014.

[17] Indian Penal Code, Section 509, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/68146/, accessed 8th October 2014.

[18] ‘Figures at a Glance – 2008’, Crime in India 2008, NCRB, http://ncrb.gov.in/, accessed 8th October 2014. Notes 17-22 refer to both Section 354 and Section 509 filings for the given year.

[19] ‘Figures at a Glance – 2009’, Crime in India 2009, NCRB, http://ncrb.gov.in/, accessed 8th October 2014.

[20] ‘Figures at a Glance – 2010’, Crime in India 2010, NCRB, http://ncrb.gov.in/, accessed 8th October 2014.

[21] ‘Figures at a Glance – 2011’, Crime in India 2011, NCRB, http://ncrb.gov.in/, accessed 8th October 2014.

[22] ‘Figures at a Glance – 2012’, Crime in India 2012, NCRB, http://ncrb.gov.in/, accessed 8th October 2014.

[23] ‘Figures at a Glance – 2013’, Crime in India 2013, NCRB, http://ncrb.gov.in/, accessed 8th October 2014.

[24] Perappadan, B.S., ‘Sexual harassment at work place high’, The Hindu, 29th November 2012, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/sexual-harassment-at-work-place-high/article4144874.ece, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[25] See above note 24.

[26] Navya P. K., ‘Industrial Tribunal verdict raises hope’, India Together, 5th April 2013, http://indiatogether.org/harassmen-women, accessed 26th October 2014. See also Mukherji, R., ‘The Cost of Justice’, posted on Kracktivist, 13th February 2014, http://kractivist.wordpress.com/, accessed 26th October 2014. In this blog post, Rina Mukherji details the case and 2013 judgment, her difficulties with obtaining legal and law enforcement assistance, and the adverse consequences of a protracted legal battle.

[27] Dhawan, H., ‘Two All India Radio officials sacked for sexually harassing radio jockeys’, The Times of India, 17th April 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Two-All-India-Radio-officials-sacked-for-sexually-harassing-radio-jockeys/articleshow/19586698.cms, accessed 27th October 2014.

[28] Sengupta, A., ‘Prasar puts best foot forward’, Telegraph India, 5th February, 2014, http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140206/jsp/nation/story_17905681.jsp#.VAWzOMWSxVM, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[29] Correspondent, ‘For months no one was ready to employ me says anchor who filed a case of sexual harassment on Sun TV Chief Editor”, The News Minute, 1st July 2014, http://www.thenewsminute.com/side_headlines/15, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[30] ‘NWMI’s statement, March 28, 2013’, Network of Women in Media, India, http://www.nwmindia.org/about-us/statements/61-nwmi-statements-on-sexual-harassment-at-sun-tv-2013, accessed 27th October 2014.

[31] See above note 29.


This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

Gender Violence in India 2014: Domestic Violence

The United Nations General Assembly addressed domestic violence in Resolution 58/147, ‘Elimination of domestic violence against women’. This resolution defines domestic violence as occurring ‘within the private sphere, generally between individuals who are related through blood or intimacy’, and notes that it is ‘one of the most common and least visible forms of violence against women’. Domestic violence can involve ‘physical, psychological and sexual violence’ as well as ‘economic deprivation and isolation’.[1] Thus, domestic violence occurs in the home or other private space; victims usually share a household with perpetrators. In many cases, victims of domestic violence experience more than one form of abuse. While domestic violence can occur across genders, the United Nations and other organizations have recognized that victims are predominantly women.

A crucial subset of domestic violence, intimate partner violence (IPV), refers to abuse by one’s spouse or partner. The World Health Organisation defines IPV as including ‘acts of physical aggression, psychological abuse, forced intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion, and various controlling behaviours such as isolating a person from family and friends or restricting access to information and assistance’. While IPV can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and can affect both men and women, the overwhelming majority of victims are women abused by male partners[2].

In India, IPV is seldom recognised as a distinct gender violence category. Women in abusive marriages may be reluctant to report the abuse because of societal perceptions that married women must ‘adjust’ to their husbands’ behaviour, and that speaking publicly against their husbands will bring shame to their families; on the other hand, unmarried women facing IPV may be dismissed as ‘asking for it’ by being in premarital relationships.

Know the law

The 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) is a civil law that aims to provide relief and compensation to victims of domestic violence. It does not provide for punishment of perpetrators, aside from possible payment of monetary compensation. It applies to women living in a ‘domestic relationship’ with an abusive man; it can thus be used by wives, sisters, widows, mothers, etc.[3] Crucially, this law also extends to women who live with their partners ‘in a relationship in the nature of marriage’, referring to women in live-in relationships. Moreover, a complaint can also be filed against the male and/or female relatives of the victim’s husband or intimate partner. The PWDVA defines domestic violence as actual abuse, or the threat of abuse, of a physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or economic nature.[4] This act also addresses harassment of women over dowry payments, or any other ‘unlawful demand’.[5]

Under the PWDVA, a magistrate or court can provide protection to the woman by barring the offender from committing violence within and outside of the home, from taking away the woman’s assets, from intimidating her and her family and from communicating with the woman. Additionally, the woman cannot be evicted from a shared residence, and can claim damages for mental and physical injuries. The magistrate can order maintenance, and grant her temporary custody of children.[6]

Complaints can be registered with a Protection Officer, a service provider, the police, or a magistrate. A Protection Officer is appointed by the state government and facilitates access to the services provided by the PWDVA. Service providers are non-profits and hospitals that can also aid the woman in accessing legal aid and medical services.[7]

In 2012, the Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Group reported that it received an ‘extraordinary and unprecedented’ 22,255 orders from magistrates under the PWDVA, showing that women ‘have been turning up in the tens of thousands to invoke … the PWDVA as a shield against abuse and violence in their homes’.[8] However, it must be noted that as a civil law, the PWDVA cannot be utilised to pursue criminal proceedings against perpetrators of domestic violence.

Crucially, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which addresses rape, includes an exception stating that ‘sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife … is not rape’.[9] Thus, a married woman cannot legally accuse her husband of rape. While Section 375 can be utilised by unmarried women who have been sexually assaulted by their intimate partners, there is a pervasive belief that rapists are not personally known to their victims, which makes it more difficult to prosecute such cases.

Married women do have the option of filing a criminal case against their husbands or his relatives under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which addresses marital cruelty. Section 498A vaguely defines ‘cruelty’ as any conduct that ‘is likely drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or [mental or physical] health,’ as well as ‘harassment … with a view to coercing her … to meet any unlawful demand for any property’.[10]

Keeping Count

The last National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), conducted in 2005-06, surveyed married women on the incidence of spousal violence. More recent data from the survey are as yet unavailable, as the NFHS-4, 2014-15, is currently being conducted. According to the NFHS-3, 39% of currently married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their current husbands, of which more than two thirds reported experiencing violence within the last twelve months.[11] Roughly one in three women report having been slapped by their husbands, and 10% of women report that their husbands have physically forced them to have sex. Between 11% and 15% of women surveyed report having their arms twisted or being pushed, shaken, kicked, dragged or beaten.[12] Only one in four women who experience violence have sought help to end the violence, and very few women report seeking help from the police or social organisations.[13] Moreover, the survey found that 54% of women and 51% of men between the ages of 15 and 49 believed wife-beating to be acceptable for one or more reasons.[14]

The study also reports a greater likelihood of spousal violence among women whose fathers beat their mothers, and among women whose husbands get drunk often.[15] In addition, women who are employed and earn money are much more likely to experience spousal violence, particularly if they earn more than their husbands.[16] For women who make household decisions jointly with their husbands, including how to use their own earnings, the odds of experiencing violence are lower than for women who either make these decisions alone, or do not have a major say in such decisions.[17]

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tracks reports of ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’. Table 1 and Figure 1 show the number of cases reported each year nationally from 2002 to 2013. Not all cases resulted in a trial or conviction; some cases are still pending.

Table 1: Reported Cases of Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives, NCRB[18]

Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Number of cases reported of cruelty by husband or relatives 49237 50703 58121 58319 63128 75930
Year 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Number of cases reported of cruelty by husband or relatives 81344 89546 94041 99135 106527 118866[19]

 Figure 1


The 2013 figure of 118,866 cases reported is an 11.6% increase from the number reported in 2012, and a 316% increase from the 28,579 cases first mentioned in 1995 by the NCRB. Of the cases from 2013, the highest proportion came from West Bengal (15.2%), followed by 12.7% each from Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.[21] Moreover, crimes under Section 498A represent roughly 40% of all crimes against women recorded by the NCRB under the Indian Penal Code.[22] While the NCRB data includes complaints filed by married women against not only their husbands, but also their husbands’ relatives, it does not extend to unmarried women in intimate relationships.

A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, titled ‘Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence’, found that globally, 30% of women have experienced IPV.[23] Based on an analysis of data from 155 studies in 81 countries, the report does not provide country-specific information, but presents consolidated data from low- and middle-income countries in six different WHO-defined ‘regions’, in addition to a separate category with high-income countries from the different regions.[24] The South-East Asia Region, which includes India, has the highest rate of IPV among surveyed women, at nearly 38%.[25]

The report also reveals that 38% of all murders of women around the world are committed by their intimate partners,[26] and that women facing IPV are about 16% more likely to have babies with low birth-weight,[27] twice as likely to have an abortion,[28] almost twice as likely to experience depression and have alcohol-use problems,[29] and in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV.[30]

[1] ‘Elimination of domestic violence against women’, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 58/147, 19th February 2004, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N03/503/40/PDF/N0350340.pdf?OpenElement, accessed 20th November 2014.

[2] ‘Intimate partner violence: facts’, World Health Organisation, p. 1, http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/en/ipvfacts.pdf, accessed 29th October 2014.

[3] Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Section 2, http://wcd.nic.in/wdvact.pdf, accessed 29th October 2014. Section 2(a) defines an ‘aggrieved person’ as ‘any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent’ and who alleges to have experienced domestic violence. Section 2(f) defines a ‘domestic relationship’ to include living together ‘in a shared household’ as well as relationships of consanguinity, marriage or adoption.

[4] PWDVA. See above note 3. Section 3(Explanation I)(i-iv) defines physical, sexual, verbal and emotional and economic abuse.

[5] PWDVA. See above note 3. Section 3(b) includes in its definition of domestic violence harassment intended to ‘coerce [a woman] … to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property’.

[6] Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative, ‘Frequently Asked Questions on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005’, p. 3, http://www.lawyerscollective.org/files/FAQonProtectionOfWomen1.pdf, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[7] PWDVA. See above note 1. Section 2(n) defines a ‘Protection Officer’, and Section 2(r) defines a ‘service provider’.

[8] Gopal, M. G., ‘The Big Picture’, from Staying Alive: Evaluating Court Orders, Sixth Monitoring and Evaluation Report 2013 on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative, p. ix, http://www.lawyerscollective.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Staying-Alive-Evaluating-Court-Orders.pdf, accessed 2nd September 2014.

[9] Indian Penal Code, Section 375(Exception), http://indiankanoon.org/doc/623254/, accessed 29th October 2014.

[10] Indian Penal Code, Section 498A, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/538436/, accessed 29th October 2014.

[11] Kishor, S. & Gupta, K., ‘Chapter 10: Spousal Violence’, ‘Gender equality and women’s empowerment in India’, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) India 2005-06, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, p. 96, http://www.rchiips.org/nfhs/a_subject_report_gender_for_website.pdf, accessed 28th October 2014.

[12] See above note 11, p. 97.

[13] ‘Key Findings Report’, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) India 2005-06, p. 21, http://www.rchiips.org/nfhs/NFHS-3%20Data/NFHS-3%20NKF/Report.pdf, accessed 28th October 2014.

[14] See above note 11, p. 74.

[15] See above note 11., p. 102 (for correlation with parental domestic violence) and p. 104 (for correlation with husbands’ drinking often).

[16] See above note 11, p. 100.

[17] See above note 11, p. 100.

[18] ‘Cases registered and their disposal under Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives during 2001-2012’, Crime in India 2012, National Crime Records Bureau, http://www.data.gov.in/catalog/cases-registered-and-their-disposal-under-cruelty-husband-or-his-relatives#web_catalog_tabs_block_10, accessed 29th October 2014. Table 1 and Figure 1 data up to 2012 are from this report; for 2013 statistics, see above note 18.

[19] ‘Chapter 5: Crimes against Women’, Crime in India 2013, NCRB, p. 81, http://ncrb.gov.in/CD-CII2013/Chapters/5-Crime%20against%20Women.pdf, accessed 26th September 2014.

[20] Figure 1 was generated using the data from Table 1.

[21] See above note 18, p. 84.

[22] See above note 18, p. 81.

[23] ‘Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence’, World Health Organisation, 2013, p. 2, http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/9789241564625/en/, accessed 29th October 2014.

[24] See above note 23, p. 9-10.

[25] See above note 23, p. 17.

[26] See above note 23, p. 2.

[27] See above note 23, p. 23.

[28] See above note 23, p. 23.

[29] See above note 23, p. 24-25.

[30] See above note 23, p. 29.


This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Dowry Violence

Dowry is a practice in which the bride’s family is required to give money or gifts to the groom and his family. While the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act criminalized the institution of dowry, it is still widely practiced in India and other parts of South Asia.[1] These monetary demands can be prohibitively expensive for women’s families, and can escalate even after the wedding is over; their prevalence perpetuates the notion that a woman is an economic burden that her husband’s family must take on, and for which the woman’s family must give compensation.

In some cases, dowry-related harassment can escalate to physical violence or even death. However, death or injuries relating to dowry harassment are often disguised by the husband’s family under a variety of pretences; the husband’s family may attempt to conceal a dowry death by attributing it to a kitchen accident. For instance, ‘data for some urban areas of India indicate that one in four deaths of women age 15 to 24 is from “accidental burns,” a medical euphemism for dowry-related’ deaths.[2]

Know the Law

1961 Dowry Prohibition Act

This Act prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry as consideration for the marriage, where ‘dowry’ is defined as ‘any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given’ by ‘one party to a marriage to the other party … in connection with the marriage’. The penalty for demanding dowry is imprisonment of up to six months and a fine, while the penalty for giving or taking dowry is imprisonment of at least five years and a fine. [3]

Indian Penal Code

Section 304B of the IPC specifically addresses dowry-related violence. It defines ‘dowry death’ as a circumstance ‘where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage’; additionally, it must be ‘shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or har­assment by her husband’ or his relatives ‘in connection with any demand for dowry’. The punishment for this offence is imprisonment for a minimum of seven years; sentences up to life imprisonment may be issued.[4]

Section 498A of the IPC pertains to acts of cruelty by the husband or his relatives against his wife. ‘Cruelty’ is defined as any conduct that ‘is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life’, as well as ‘harassment … with a view to coercing her … to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security’, or ‘on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand’. The punishment for such an offence is up to three years of imprisonment and a fine.[5]

Keeping Count

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) keeps track of dowry deaths and dowry harassment under the categories of ‘dowry deaths’ (IPC Section 304B) and ‘cruelty by husbands or relatives’ (IPC Section 498A). It also tracks the number of incidents prosecuted under the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act. Note that the category of ‘cruelty by husbands or relatives’ is not limited to dowry harassment, but also includes acts of abuse unrelated to dowry demands. Table 1 shows the number of reported cases under each relevant section of Indian law since 2009. Figures 1-3 graph the data for each law over the same time period. While reports of dowry deaths under IPC Section 304B have remained relatively steady over the past five years, the NCRB data show a clear and consistent increasing trend in the reports of dowry harassment under the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act. Reported cases of ‘cruelty by husband or his relatives’ under IPC Section 498A also show a steady increasing trend.

Table 1: Reported Cases of Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives, NCRB[6]

Year  2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Reported cases of cruelty by husband or relatives (IPC Sec. 498A) 89546 94041 99135 106527 118866
Reported cases of dowry death (IPC Sec. 304) 8383 8391 8618 8233 8083
Reported cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 5650 5182 6619 9038 10709

Figure 1[7]


Dowry I

Figure 2[8]

Dowry II    

Figure 3[9]

Dowry III

Note that the data only covers cases that have been reported under each relevant law. The actual incidence of dowry death and harassment is difficult to estimate, as it is suspected that many cases go unreported.

[1] Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia, Avon Center for Women and Justice, 2011, p. 19, http://www.ohchr.org/documents/hrbodies/cedaw/harmfulpractices/avonglobalcenterforwomenandjustice.pdf, accessed 12th November 2014.

[2] Bunch, C., Carrillo, R. & Shore, R., ‘Violence against women,’ from Women in the third world: An encyclopedia of contemporary issues, ed. Stromquist, N.P., Routledge, NY, 2013 ed., p. 62.

[3] Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Sec. 2-3, http://www.wcd.nic.in/dowryprohibitionact.htm, accessed 12th November 2014. Sec. 2 defines ‘dowry’ and Secs. 3 and 4 establish the penalty.

[4] Indian Penal Code, Section 304b. See above note 2. Subsection (1) defines ‘dowry death’, and subsection (2) lists sentencing guidelines.

[5] Indian Penal Code, Section 498A(a-b), http://indiankanoon.org/doc/538436/, accessed 12th November 2014.

[6] ‘Chapter 5: Crimes against Women’, Crime in India 2013, NCRB, p. 81, http://ncrb.gov.in/CD-CII2013/Chapters/5-Crime%20against%20Women.pdf, accessed 26th September 2014.

[7] Figure 1 generated using data from Table 1.

[8] Figure 2 generated using data from Table 1.

[9] Figure 3 generated using data from Table 1.


This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Acid Attacks

An acid attack is the premeditated act of throwing concentrated acid (usually sulfuric, nitric, or hydrochloric acid) on the body of another person. The purpose of this is to intentionally disfigure and cause extreme physical and emotional pain to the victim.[1]

The effects of acid attacks include blindness, disfiguration of the face and body, scarring, and long-term psychosocial and economic difficulties. Treatment for acid violence can include multiple expensive surgeries, physical therapy, and long-term medical care, which are often out of reach for many victims due to geographic isolation, the prohibitive costs of hospitalization and specialized care, and lack of appropriate medical facilities.[2]

While acid attacks occur in many countries around the world, they are particularly prevalent in South Asia, and ‘perpetrators’ motives are often tied to gender inequality and discrimination’.[3] In India, acid attacks are most commonly perpetrated against women, often in retaliation for ‘spurning suitors, for rejecting proposals of marriage, [or] for denying dowry’.[4] The types of acid used for these attacks can be bought easily and inexpensively in many neighborhood stores and until 2013, the sale of acid was not regulated by any governing body.[5]

The Avon Global Center for Women and Justice also reports that a majority of acid attacks in India, about 61% out of those reported in news media, occur in public spaces like bus stands, road sides, trains, schools, colleges, and markets.[6] Acid attacks may also harm bystanders and relatives in addition to the primary intended victim.

Know the Law

In the 2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Indian Penal Code was amended to include a specific category for acid attacks. According to Section 326B of the Amendment, attempting to throw or administer acid with intent to deform, maim or burn another person can be punished with five to seven years in prison, plus a fine. According to Section 326A, anyone who ‘causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to’ or ‘maims or disfigures’ another person by intentionally throwing acid shall be punished with a minimum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment, plus a fine. Sentences up to life in prison may be issued.[7]

In 2013, the Indian government reclassified acids as a poison, bringing them under the regulatory purview of the Poison Act of 1919. This Act empowers state governments to regulate the safe possession, sale and registration of substances designated as poisons. Including acids in this category means buyers of over-the-counter concentrated acids must provide proof of identity to the retailer upon purchase.[8] Retailers must also register the purchase and the address of the buyer, and concentrated acids can no longer be bought by individuals under the age of 18. While this is a national ruling, the responsibility to implement the law remains with state governments.[9] Data on whether the ruling has reduced the frequency of acid attacks in India are not yet available. However, Bangladesh saw a 15-20% decrease in the number of acid attacks following the adoption in 2002 of laws to limit access to acids and increase criminal penalties; this suggests that such laws can be effective in decreasing acid attacks.[10] As of September 2014, however, few states have implemented the new laws, and compensation and medical help for victims often remain mired in inter-departmental confusion.[11]

Keeping Count

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has yet to publish data on acid attacks, as they were only recognized as a distinct category of crime in 2013. The Acid Survivors Trust International, an organization dedicated to preventing acid attacks and supporting victims, estimates that between 500 and 1000 acid attacks occur annually in India, based on comparison with neighboring countries that do publish data.[12] The Avon Center report ‘Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia’ tracked news reports of acid attacks in India from January 2002 to October 2010, as a proxy for the actual prevalence of attacks. Table 1 and Figure 1 below show the number of acid attacks reported across all the news sources examined in the report. Note that the actual number of attacks is almost certainly orders of magnitude greater than the number that make it into the news. However, if the rising number of news articles is in fact at least partly due to greater numbers of attacks and not simply to increased media attention, the report suggests that acid attacks have been on the rise in recent years.

Table 1: Acid Attacks in News Reports, 2002-2010[13]

Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Number of acid attacks reported in news 4 6 10 22 19 19 25 21 27

 Figure 1

Acid Graphic

Statistics and surveys of acid attack survivors show that acid violence is often connected to other forms of gender violence. A survey of 56 women in Karnataka who survived acid attacks between 1999 and 2007 found that 55 of them knew their attacker. All of the women surveyed stated that, prior to the acid attack, they had experienced other forms of gender violence or harassment, including workplace harassment, domestic violence or dowry demands.[15]

[1] ‘Combating acid violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia’, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School  et al, 2011, p. 1-2, http://www.ohchr.org/documents/hrbodies/cedaw/harmfulpractices/avonglobalcenterforwomenandjustice.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014. This report examined news reports of acid attacks in India from January 2002 to October 2010; it also studied reports of acid attacks in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

[2] ‘Burnt not defeated: Women fight against acid attacks in Karnataka’, Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW), 2007, pg 28, http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/womenandjustice/upload/burnt-not-defeated.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[3] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 9. See above note 1.

[4] ‘Report on the inclusion of acid attacks as specific offenses in the Indian Penal Code and a law for compensation of victims of crime’, Law Commission of India, 2008, p. 3, http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report226.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[5] Mahapatra, D., ‘Government to treat acid as poison, regulate sales’, Times of India, 17th July 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Government-to-treat-acid-as-poison-regulate-sales/articleshow/21111357.cms?referral=PM, accessed 21st November 2014.

[6] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 14. See above note 1.

[7] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(5), http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf, accessed 8th October 2014. Sec. 5 of the Act inserts Sections 326A and 326B into the Indian Penal Code.

[8] Poisons Act, 1919, Sec. 2(a-g), http://www.health.mp.gov.in/acts/poison-act-1919-2.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[9] Mahapatra, D., ‘Government to treat acid as poison, regulate sales’. See above note 5.

[10] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 12. See above note 1.

[11] Dasgupta, K., ‘Acid attack survivors in India find safe space but little legal respite’, The Guardian, 9th September 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/09/acid-attacks-india-legal-respite, accessed 22nd November 2014.

[12] ‘Where it happens: India’, Acid Violence, Acid Survivors Trust International, http://www.acidviolence.org/index.php/acid-violence/countries/india, accessed 22nd November 2014.

[13] Table 1 adapted from data provided in ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 11. See above note 1. Note that the data for 2010 only go up to October.

[14] Figure 1 adapted from ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 11. See above note 1.

[15] ‘Burnt not defeated’, CSAAAW, 2007, pg 30. See above note 2.



This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

Gender Violence in India Report 2014: An Introduction

The third edition of the Prajnya Gender Violence in India report has been in the works a very long time, and as a result, each draft has required multiple updates and edits. Like many other things we do, the GVR (as we call it) has been a casualty of our limited resources and our dependence on volunteer work. Also, like many other things we do, the GVR represents our inability to give up entirely on a good idea.

“To everything, there is a season,” and finally, we are uploading GVR 3 today, albeit in a different format–at least for now. This new edition is going up as a series of blogposts. Everything else is the same–the effort that has gone into them, the sincerity of each author, the concerns about accuracy and integrity. We just don’t want to wait any more to prepare and design an actual document. We want you to have this work accessible right away.

GVR 3 has had multiple authors, each engaging with and adding to the others’ work. They are Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

Divya Bhat was a Shakti Fellow at Prajnya, spending time with us in Chennai while she did her fieldwork on the medical community’s response to sexual assault survivors. Shakthi Manickavasagam joined us to coordinate the 2012 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence, and has stayed on to become an integral part of the volunteer team that works on gender violence awareness. Titiksha Pandit joined us briefly as a Saakshi Fellow to work on a research project on gender sensitisation and awareness, and we asked her to help update the text as it was. Finally, when Mitha Nandagopalan arrived in Chennai on an extended visit and volunteered her excellent research and editorial skills, we have been able to bring this edition to a close, even filling in the gaps that remained.

In the final round of edits, we have had the joint effort of Mitha, Shakthi and Anupama Srinivasan and it is the 2014 Campaign Coordinator, Swetha Shankar, who is posting these, making this a true team effort. I would like to thank all these people for their hard work over the last few years.

The GVR was first imagined in 2009 as a ready reckoner on gender violence, and I hope you find this edition useful, whatever search leads you to it.
For your convenience, here is an index of the GVR 3 posts:
  1. Prenatal Sex Selection, Foeticide & Infanticide
  2. Street Sexual Harassment
  3. Acid Attacks
  4. Honour Crimes
  5. Dowry Violence
  6. Domestic Violence
  7. Workplace Sexual Harassment
  8. ICTs & Gender Violence
  9. Rape

Gender Violence: The Health Impact – Blog Symposium Index of Links

A consolidated index of all the posts from the Blog Symposium on Gender Violence and Health that was part of the 2014 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence can be found below.