Wednesday, May 2, 2012

India: Higher Age of Consent - a Tool to Control Consensual Sex?

Now I’m not often starstruck… or even interested in popular culture (to the point where its almost become a source of frustration for my friends, where I never understand any of their references). In my adult life, I almost never watch Bollywood movies. There are only a few 'famous' faces from both the West and the East that I’m really interested in. One of these faces happens to be Kabir Bedi.

Growing up as a desi kid in Saudi – we had 2 channels, 1 Arabic and 1 English, where the English one was recurrently interrupted for soccer (still something I dislike) – Indian movies were a major source of entertainment. These were the pre-internet and pre satellite days...gawsh I feel old.

Often on a scorching Saudi Arabian afternoon when the sun made the sidewalk hot enough to fry an egg on – When I wasn't burning to a crisp by the pool, I stayed in and watched and rewatched some of the Indian movie ‘classics’ that we owned on VHS or Betamax. There are two that I can remember in particular. Mr. India, obviously…and Khoon Bhari Maang. The latter had Kabir Bedi in an awesome villainous role. Where he swooped in and married his dead friends wife, then planned to kill her to inherit her family fortune. He pushed her into crocodile infested waters (which I'm not entirely sure exist in India – but that’s the kind of thing that makes old school movies great). And in true Bollywood manner, she came back with a vengeance. He was Badass. And so was she (Rekha).

Please see my version below for a rough idea of what happens (click to enlarge):

Note: I may have paraphrased a tiny little bit. 

I’d watch that movie anytime, anywhere. In fact, recently it was showing on a local Canadian channel, and I watched it with a bunch of gora friends. Which was a hillarious experience in itself.

But – I digress. This blog is definitely not one about Bollywood, or Lollywood… (sometimes it is about  gettin' ‘wood’ though –sorry couldn’t resist the lame joke.)

However, the reason I mention Mr. Bedi is because he got me reading about an interesting/controversial law that’s about to be passed in India. He Tweeted;

At first glance I was like wtf? Why is he advocating a lower age of consent for a country that has a problem with sexual abuse of children, child marriage, etc… won’t lowering the age of consent only encourage these things? I asked why he thought that way…

And whaddaya know he fuckin’ responded. Eeeeeeek! Like I said, I don’t often get starstruck… but the guy from one of my childhood favourites…responding to my tweet!! That'll do it.

However, I was a little disappointed..because I thought he wasn’t being sensitive to the cause. Couldn’t figure out why though. So I read up a bit on this law. Here are some quotes; :

“The Indian government is poised to approve a much-needed and long overdue step toward protecting our children. The Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill, 2011, defines sexual abuse of children under ‘assault’, ‘harassment’ and ‘(use of children in) pornography’ and prescribes punishment to offenders that can extend up to life imprisonment.”

According to the newspaper, under the revised law, any sex with an underage person – even if consensual – will be considered statutory rape, and will be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act, carrying a maximum punishment of three years in jail.”

(sounds like a good law so far, but the question burning in the back of my mind is… what about consensual sex between minors?)

“Other experts, however, point out that sex with anyone under 18 will indeed be criminal if – and only if – one of the parties is an adult. “The purpose of the law is to protect children – understood as being upto 18 years of age – from the unwanted sexual advances of adults. The proposed law does not in any way deal with consensual or otherwise sex between and among minors,” says activist Pinki Virani.”

(If this is indeed the case, then this law is pretty airtight. But I hope that this is all clearly specified…because if it isn’t I can think of a million and one ways that fundamentalists and parents, cops, etc will abuse this.)

“Irrespective of the ‘age of consent’ controversy, there is no doubt that the law will be the first big step in setting the context for a ‘societal and attitudinal mindset change’ needed for children and adults to speak out against child sexual abuse and report offenders. Worldwide only 12-18 per cent of the children even disclose, leave alone report, being sexually abused.”

(an awful, awful problem that needs to be dealt with in Pakistan too) :

"The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared a Bill that seeks to raise the age of legal sex from 16 to 18, provoking sharp criticism from child rights activists, who called it a regressive step"

"The legislation makes India an exception among democracies that have stuck to 16 years as the age for legal sex."

"While the UK has 16 as its age of consent, Canada and the US follow a nuanced approach exempting minors of the same age or close-in-age from punishment."

(which is what I assumed the law would specify, but I guess not. So who are they going to accuse as ‘the rapist’ in a case where two 16 yr olds have had consensual sex?)

"Former Law Commission member Kirti Singh criticized it saying that this would amount to 'criminalizing' sex between young people, 'The remedy to young people indulging in sexual activity is not by clamping down through law and enforcement. This will have a negative impact on the false cases of rape, kidnapping and honour killing.' "

"Bharti Ali of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights was equally scathing. She termed it a 'ridiculous' amendment and a statement on the Indian attitude towards sex. 'We don't want to talk about sex with our children and when they want to explore, we put them behind bars. This will only be misused by police and sends a wrong signal to children,' she added."

* * *

So upon further research into the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill, turns out that Mr. Bedi's got the right idea after all. Perhaps I was looking at it from too Western a perspective when I naturally assumed that this bill wouldn't target consensual sex between two people under the new age of consent (18). Since that's how it works in Canada. But heck, it seems like the wording's open to interpretation. And knowing Desi society, it'll be twisted to control consensual sexual activity between people under 18.

Now I'm not saying that all teenagers should be encouraged to get out and get laid. But if some find themselves naturally in such a situation, they are definitely old enough to make their own decisions.

The Government can equip young people with sexual education, awareness, pamphlets, condoms and other such tools, but the government should not be making this decision for them.

Of course the situation is entirely different when one of the people involved is over 18, in that case... this bill is a step forward. But until this part is laid out in clear could definitely be seen as a way to criminalize consensual sexual activity...and that is a step backward.

Its a crazy kinda tango us desis do with 'sexuality' 1 step forward, 2 steps back... We're not sure we know how to feel about it.

*  *  *

After reading all this I tweeted Mr. Bedi, and omfg - he retweeted me!

And lastly, I have been wanting to experiment with my version of 'fan art'..... my first ever drawing of a famous person (and perhaps last).. TA DAA!

apologies for the small print, click to enlarge :)


OMFG Guess who read and tweeted abt the blog AND this post. *Can't wipe the grin off my face*


  1. Eiynah! This is sOo awesome! Kabir Bedi rocks! And I absolutely loved your take on khoon bhari maang! LOLL I wonder what he thought of it... I was very young when that movie came out...didnt remember how good he looked in a speedo :p

    As for the Age of Consent law in India - trust us Desi's to take away the few rights our youth have (under the pretense of being progressive). Although, I don't believe all teenagers should be sexually active, I do believe that they should have the choice to be if they are both consenting.

    You know who would really love this stupid law? Nadia Khan from Pakistan.

  2. Loved this post! In Russia, Bollywood movies used to be VERY popular.I remember watching some and my aunts crying :) And i loved your take on the movie.Really funny!

    1. so glad u enjoyed it Yulia! I'm happy that the blog is not soo brown-centric, that non- brown people can't understand or relate. And wow, i can't believe bollywood movies were big in russia... seems like they're pretty popular everywhere. (some terms i might use often: Desi = brown and Gora = white...just incase u were wonderin' ;) )