Governance Feminism: What Role Did Feminists Play in Reforming Rape Laws?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of the EPW.


In her 2017 article, Prabha Kotiswaran analyses the various reforms in the law following the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in December 2012. Importnatly, Kotiswaran attempts to “demystify” the role played by Indian feminists. While the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act (CLA), 2013 reflects a growing influence of women in corridors of power, Kotiswaran writes, feminists failed to bring about change regarding issues such as rape by the armed forces. 

Ratna Appnender argues that the issue of “rape by the armed forces” was a part of the reforms in the CLA. Appnender explains that the CLA simplified the process of prosecuting a member of the armed forces accused of rape and other sexual offences. The 2013 amendment could be enforced in all states, which made the CLA more accessible than the territorial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958 and AFSPA, 1990. 

Kotiswaran responds to Appnender, arguing that feminists demanded reforms to the AFSPA such as the removal of government sanction to prosecute a member of the armed forces accused of rape. They also suggested amendments that would hold superiors accountable for the actions of their subordinates. Kotiswaran believes that feminists “fared poorly” in 2013 because their demands were not met.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Women: Rape and the Law, P A Sebastian, 1980
  2. Law, Ideology and Female Sexuality, Flavia Agnes, 2002
  3. #MeToo: An International Conversation on Sexual Violence Impacting Feminist Discourse Across Borders, Keertana K Tella, 2018
  4. Why Laws Are Not Enough to Deal With Sexual Harassment, Engage, 2019
  5. Complicating the Feminist, Urvi Desai, 2020
  6. A Deep Social Bias Marks India's Response to Rape, Meena Menon, 2020


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Law and Feminism”


Curated by Anandita Chandra []

Image courtesy: Modified. Feminism In India/Srishti Sharma [CC BY 4.0]

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