It is not every day that we find cause for such solid endorsement of a minister’s statement: yet it would be both misogynistic and out of sync with prevailing thinking not to go along with the call for the law ministry to scrap the existing “time-barred” rule that militates against women coming out of the society-imposed closet of shame etc to report instances of sexual harassment/abuse of children that happened years earlier.
Maneka Gandhi’s comment may have come in the context of a specific time-frame. But the law ministry, the police and the courts would do well to heed her plea, “I know when your body is abused, you remember it always. I don’t care when the complaint is filed but action should be taken,” she said recently; it was the first “official” appreciation of the Me Too movement having broken an Indian glass ceiling. Regardless of party affiliation or customary gender bias the political establishment must fully back the minister for women and child development: the nation awaits an across-the board response. Though not “hard core saffron”, what Mrs Gandhi has demanded is a logical conclusion to Beta pado, beti bachao ~ only education can liberate Indian women from the traditional male-domination that has long subjected them to unmentionable injustice.
The minister was referring particularly to the provision of Section 486 of the Criminal Procedure Code that “crime” which involves a punishment of three years imprisonment must be reported within three yeas of the offence having been committed. While a provision in the Indian Penal Code does override the time-bar “in the interests of justice”, few “delayed complaints” were entertained by the cops etc. Mrs Gandhi had spoken of complaints of sexual abuse of children being entertained till the victim was 30, in a wider perspective all time-bars in matters of sexual abuse need to scrapped (to digress a trifle, a thorough overhaul/modernistation of the IPC and CrPC are long ovedue) because only when circumstances permit do victims feel strong enough to speak up.
That is the uncomfortable, universal reality. The male apprehension that the Me Too movement could go out of control and misused is not entirely unfounded, but on the basis of reality it will be found that few women make false complaints ~ they have their self-respect and dignity to preserve. And false allegations can be made in respect of other offences too.
From the casting couch to the media and the corporate sector has sexual exploitation been taken lying down ~ Renuka Choudhary has said it is rampant in political circles too ~ and Mrs Gandhi’s observations come in a global context. Alas also reflected in some recent liberal verdicts of the apex court. Like their counterparts the world over, hard as it may be, Indian males must learn that “No means No”.