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‘We have great respect for our women but...’: BCI chief Mishra calls for ‘men too’ march for CJI fanboys, watering down of rape laws

A woman who delays filing a sexual offence complaint is either a ‘liar or consenting’, claimed Mishra

BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra at an ex-CJI’s party in 2017 (via Facebook)
BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra at an ex-CJI’s party in 2017 (via Facebook)

Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Manan Kumar Mishra has apparently written yet another open letter calling for a lot of different things at once, reported Bar & Bench:

  1. “common lawyers” should support the “men too movement”,
  2. to express their “trust in the Institution” of the Supreme Court,
  3. to “show solidarity” with Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, who had been accused of sexual harassment (and cleared by an in-house committee of fellow judges), and
  4. to reform sexual violence laws to make them more favourable to men.

According to Bar & Bench, Mishra wrote the much-criticised exoneration by the in-house committee was “totally just and proper” and that:

The Common Lawyers who have trust in the Institution should support the men too movement and should assemble at India Gate today at 4pm to show their solidarity with the C.J.I. Mr. Ranjan Gogoi.

He also used the occasion to rail against one of the favourite bugbears of the so-called men’s rights’ movement, to amend rape (Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)) and outraging the modesty of women (IPC Section 354):

The oral testimony of the prosecutrix is enough to convict under Section 354 and 376 IPC. Why? We are not in 18th century, that no one can presume that a female will never make such allegations to falsely implicate her enemies. We have great respect for our women. But time has changed, we must keep it mind.

While we have not received a copy of the full letter (the BCI and Mishra have been boycotting LI from press releases for a while now), according to Bar & Bench, his letter stated that “we found 90% cases are resulting in acquittals” but false cases were on the increase because “settled principals of Evidence Act” (sic) are kept in “waste paper boxes”.

Apparently, judges should “realise the problems” and the “mental and physical agony and harassments [sic] of the common men”.

He reportedly also called for shorter limitation periods and that delay in filing any sexual offence complaints “normally very much proves and establishes that the so-called prosecutrix was/is either a liar or was a consenting party”.

Unironical meninism

This letter will no doubt make Mishra popular not just with the CJI, but also with the somewhat niche but increasingly vocal men’s rights movement (particularly online), whose proponents (sometimes?) claim that men have become a new social and economic underclass and have it very much harder than women, conveniently ignoring the horrific statistics (and reported incidences) about violence against women in India (and globally), as well as economic discrimination in the workplace (especially at the bar and bench) and in the home.

While mens’ rights activists may be raising legitimate problems in the justice system and have good intentions, sometimes, more often than not the fancy arguments hide underlying ignorance, at best, or, in many cases, overt misogyny.

Men’s rights activists, for instance, sometimes claim an epidemic of suicides amongst men caused by false complaints and general discrimination against men (although according to research, “India accounted for 37 percent of all suicides reported globally for women and 26 percent for men”).

And some, much like Mishra, seem to believe that low conviction rates in rape cases are evidence that most rape complaints are false, while many rape prosecutions fall apart exactly because it is so hard to prove rape beyond reasonable doubt, despite the greater weight accorded to statements by the complainant under law. And that is ignoring the huge number of sexual violence cases against women that never even make it to court: 99% of cases of rape, many domestic, go unreported, according to government data.

Civic systems too are often biased against women, ranging from police to judges to lawyers (who are all, overwhelmingly male).

Yes, there are false cases filed against men by women or families out to get revenge or cover up consensual sex (which undoubtedly cause serious harm, stigma and psychological damage to those innocently accused). But assuming that the majority are fake conveniently ignores victims’ harrowing multi-year processes of pursuing rape complaints until conviction, which are often fraught with humiliation and shame, ranging from the so-called two-finger tests, to aggressive cross examination and victim shaming (and a likely acquittal at the end).

Considering it takes a near superhuman effort to pursue a legitimate rape complaints, coupled with the social stigma and intimidation that often accompanies making complaints, it is unsurprising that so few are reported (and that many are reported only after significant delays).

Finally, many of these arguments against rape laws also assume that the judicial process is not robust enough to be able to weed out such fake cases (in some cases this may be true, though that is just as likely to cut both ways).

The idea behind the laws prohibiting violence against women specifically - much as reservation laws or laws against caste-based hate crimes or discrimination - is to redress centuries of historical imbalance and oppression by men of women, and reflects the fact that most sexual violence globally and in India is perpetrated against women.

This did not end in the “18th century”, to borrow Mishra’s timeframe, but still continues today. Changing those laws, risks returning us to the 18th century.

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