Reading the 1983 Lok Sabha Debates: The Politics of Forming Rape Laws in India

Following the Mathura Open Letter condemning the Supreme Court for acquitting two policemen charged with the rape and molestation of a 14-year-old tribal girl, various women’s groups pressed for an amendment in India’s rape law. This was looked into by the 84th Law Commission in April 1980, following which the government drafted a bill that was  forwarded to a Joint Parliamentary Committee in December 1980, owing to its omission of various essential recommendations and demands of the Law Comission and the various women's groups. The JPC submitted its report nearly two years later. Finally, a year after the JPC report had been submitted, the bill was enacted after four-hour debate in the Lok Sabha, spanning across three days.

In her article in the EPW, Pratiksha Baxi observes that a reading of the text of the 1983 Lok Sabha debates show how related discourses of shame, stigma, death, and defilement were viewed as the defining features of the rape experiences of the victim. As a consequence, three categories of women emerged: the raped woman as the “bearer of stigma” versus the “normal woman,” the “chaste" woman versus the “unchaste” woman and, the “married” versus the “unmarried” woman. 

Through parliamentary discourse, the identity of the raped woman was constituted, and as a consequence, the severity of the punishment was calculated. However, the debates show that the object of retribution here was not merely to uphold the right of bodily autonomy, but to formulate the threshold of “acceptable levels of violence against women” and to consequently punish any breach of contract between the masculinist state and all men

Follow the cards to read about how this was achieved. 

 

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