This isn’t rape!

There are many words — cheat, lowlife, scoundrel — that describe men who lie to women and promise them marriage just in order to have sex with them. Rapist is not one of them. My Hindustan Times column:

He was a doctor, she was studying pharmacy. They met in 2009 and fell in love, or so she thought. They lived in different cities. He said he wanted to marry her. In April 2013, she boarded a train to come and meet him. They had sex.

He dilly-dallied about marriage. In June, she learned that he had married someone else. She accused him of rape; he was arrested; and a long trial began.

If rape is about consent — or the lack of it — then can consent obtained on false information truly be consent? And if it’s not true consent, then isn’t it rape? This past week, the Supreme Court weighed in and said it was indeed.

As many as 70-80% of the rape complaints received by Delhi’s Rape Crisis Centre fall in this grey category, says Zeenat Malick, a lawyer who was with the centre until October 2018 and now has her own practice. “We need to have some kind of separate provision for these types of cases where adult women agree to sex only because men have promised to marry them,” she says.

But the judgment is troubling on several counts.

The first is to do with obtaining consent on false grounds. Disgusting as it is, is it rape? What if a man says he is a graduate but in actual fact failed his exam? What if he has lied about his income? And what if he has every intention to marry but later changes his mind?

By equating cheating with rape, we trivialise rape, which remains a horrific crime reported with depressing regularity from Kathua to Unnao.

The judgment also makes an unstated assumption that premarital sex is not ok — unless accompanied by intent to marry. But sex is not a reward for marriage and every instance of premarital sex need not end in marriage.

Above all we have to ask: What do women hope to achieve when they file rape complaints against such men? Revenge? Marriage? Typically, says a criminal lawyer who asked not to be named, these cases end in a settlement — either money or marriage. But what is the value of a marriage conducted under the threat of jail?

India is changing, and a new generation of aspirational, assertive women dream of careers before marriage, according to a Naandi Foundation survey. It is likely that many of these women believe in their agency, including their right to choose a sexual partner. There is an underlying patriarchy that assumes that all women who have sex are gullible innocents in dire need of protection by the law. Or that a woman who has sex with a man other than her husband, or intended, is ruined for life.

There are many words — cheat, lowlife, scoundrel — that describe men who lie to women just in order to have sex with them. Rapist is not one of them.

The column first appeared in the Hindustan Times 

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