Bhanwari Devi, utterly unequal

The CBI director was reminded of a Hollywood film, Sex, Lies and Videotape, when he spoke at a function to felicitate officers responsible for arresting a key accused in the Bhanwari Devi case. Many in the media, readers and viewers would agree. Indeed, there seems to be clear evidence of "blackmail, politicians, sex, CDs", as the CBI director put it. Bhanwari Devi's case is particularly explicit because of the airing of the "sex CD" on some channels and the playing and replaying of an audio recording in which she is heard asking for money in exchange for the CD. But is that really what the case is all about? An elderly political leader trapped by a scheming woman and blackmailed through a CD? While some would say she should have known that she could not get away with blackmail, others might say, in her defence, that whatever she did cannot justify murder. In all scenarios, it is Bhanwari Devi's caste, character and behaviour, which are at the centre of public attention.

Women activists working on sexual harassment cases are cautious when it comes to representing women who claim victimisation in consensual sexual relations. The consent of a woman in a sexual act is considered crucial in laws against sexual assault. Under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, there are six clauses, which include being given intoxicants, being of unsound mind and so on, which, if relevant in the case, would be considered as vitiating the consent. The man could then be tried for rape. During the discussions in the '80s on rape law reform, the issue of power rape, when a man utilises his superior position to have sexual relations with an employee, was also discussed. Unfortunately, this was not accepted. Under Section 376, the law recognises the issue only in an indirect manner, that is, by enhancing the punishment if the man accused has misused his position to rape a subordinate in some specific institutions like remand homes, hospitals, police stations. The minimum punishment for the accused in such cases would be enhanced from seven years to ten years. In Bhanwari's case, neither of these sections would apply. According to the law, the relations were consensual.

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