The status of women has been subject to many radical changes in the past few decades. With decline in their status from ancient to medieval period to demand of equal rights by reformers, the history of women in India has indeed been eventful.
In a sovereign civilized state, laws hold the primary position. Therefore it would be quite true to say that legislations have played a very pivotal role in the transformation of this status.
It all started right before independence with the enactment of Prevention of Sati Act 1829 which was then followed by various other laws. Post independence, the hopes began to rise. India’s constitution and the founding fathers were determined to ensure equality in general and gender equality in particular to the citizens.
The preamble, fundamental rights, directive principles of state policies have provided several safeguards to secure the human rights of the women. This is so, because one of the classes of society which was much oppressed since several years was the class of women. Therefore, it became essential to make them stand on an equal footing by aiding them with such special laws.
Some legal rights which a woman should be aware of are:-
Right to Zero FIR
Under Zero FIR, any woman who has been molested or raped can file a police complaint in any police station in the city. Usually police stations do not register complaints if the crime does not occur in their jurisdiction. However, the Zero FIR rule allows for an FIR to be filed in any police station in the city. Once an FIR is filed, the senior officers will direct the Station House Officer(SHO) to lodge an FIR in the relevant police station.
Right to privacy
Under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a woman can record her statement in private if she has been raped. She would record the statement only in front of the magistrate. She can also record her statement in person with a lady constable or police officer.
Right to free legal aid
A woman who walks into the police station has a right to ask for free legal aid. Often there are cases where a woman is misquoted or humiliated and this law has been brought in to ensure she gets proper justice.
Right to virtual complaints
A victim, who is unable to go to the police station, can also register a police complaint by e-mail or registered post. This should be addressed to the senior police officer or Deputy Commissioner or Commissioner of Police. Once they receive the letter, they will ask the SHO of the police station where the incident occurred to investigate and file an FIR. A victim can then give her statement even at her home to the police.
Right to untimely registration
A victim might go to the police station immediately to file a complaint. Police have no right to say that the complaint is not timely and reject it. The woman is allowed to file a complaint even at a later date as her self-respect is important above all.
Right to no arrest
The Supreme Court has ruled that no woman can be arrested before sunrise or after sunset. A woman can exercise this right even if a woman police constable is present at night. If the police deems it important to arrest a woman at night, they need to have a letter from the magistrate explaining why the arrest is necessary.
Right to confidentiality
The law states that the identity of a rape victim cannot be revealed. According to Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code, the disclosure of a victim’s identity is a punishable offense. The victim’s name cannot be printed or published nor can anything else that will reveal her identity. The law is in place to ensure that she is not ostracised or victimised because of the sexual crime committed. In the judgement also she is only referred to as the ‘victim’ and not by name.
Right to not being interrogated in the police station
Under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a woman cannot be called for interrogation to the police station. She can be questioned at her home in the presence of a woman constable and her family or friends.
No sexual harassment
By law, every employer in India has to have a Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee in the organisation (private or public). The Supreme Court has issued guidelines on how to set up these committees. The committee is to comprise of 50 percent women and one member should be part of a women’s welfare group.
Rape is a crime
Section 164 A of the Criminal Procedure Code states that a victim of rape has to undergo a medical examination and the report thereby becomes proof. A victim can ask for the copy of her report. Rape is considered a crime and not a medical condition and thus the medical officer examining her cannot make a diagnosis. The medical officer can state if there has been any sexual activity. He or she cannot decide if rape had taken place or not.
Thus laws have indeed played a very important role in the lives of woman. Their conditions have no doubt been improved. However, the present scene is not desirable too. Women safety is still a very big concern and with time and awareness, the solution shall be sought for.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Krupa Thakkar is currently pursuing BLS LLB from Government Law College, Mumbai. She is presently in her second year. Always eager to learn new things, she keeps herself updated with happenings around the world. Though not an extrovert, she makes sure that she performs the best whenever she is allotted any task.