Wrestlers’ Protest And The Shrinking Space For Dissent

Context : 

Public demonstrations have long been a driving force behind social and policy change in India, giving people of all backgrounds the chance to express their concerns and fight for their rights. Protests have exploded in recent years with astonishing speed. During the decade that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Congress was in power, protests created space for a new era of social action. Even though a variety of groups have voiced significant opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, it has been handled significantly differently from past administrations.

Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Nirbhaya Act)

  • Expanded definition of rape: 
      • The definition of rape was expanded by the Act to encompass behaviours like penetration with any object, not simply the male organ.
      • Additionally, it broadened the spectrum of situations in which sexual acts qualify as rape.
  • Increased penalties for sexual offences:
      •  The minimum sentence for rape was raised from seven to ten years in jail, with the maximum sentence being life.
      • The Act established the provision for the death sentence in rape cases where the victim dies or is left in a chronic vegetative state.
  • New offences made illegal: 
      • The Act made several sexual offences illegal, including acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism, and the trafficking of people for sex purposes.
      • To address the growing concerns surrounding their occurrence, it added specific provisions and penalties for these offences.
  • Identity and privacy protection for victims:
      •  The Act added clauses to safeguard sexual assault victims’ identities throughout the legal procedure.
      • To protect the victim’s privacy and prevent societal stigma, it forbade the disclosure of their identity in any form of media.
  • Victim’s statement to be recorded: 
      • Under the Act, any female officer, including female police officers, must sensitively record the victim’s account.
      • This clause aimed to give victims a secure and encouraging setting in which they could disclose sexual offences and offer their testimonies.
  • Establishment of special fast-track courts: 
      • The Act mandated the creation of these courts to hasten the trial of sexual offence cases.
      • These courts were created to provide victims with prompt justice while cutting down on the backlog of cases involving sexual offences.
  • Enhancing the legal protections against child sexual abuse:
      •  The Act added specific provisions to combat the problem of child sexual abuse, including tougher penalties for crimes committed against children.
      • Additionally, new offences were specified, including aggravated penetrative sexual assault on a child and employing a kid in pornography.
  • Enhanced penalties for repeat offenders: 
    • The Act included enhanced penalties for repeat offenders to stop people who have previously committed sexual offences from doing so again.
    • Longer punishments and tougher oversight of repeat offenders through obligatory registration and reporting requirements were added to the legislation.

Points to Ponder:

  • Impact of demonstrations During the UPA Government: 
      • Protests during the UPA government, like the Nirbhaya demonstrations, attracted a lot of popular support and changed the way policies were approached about sexual assault.
      • The 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was a necessity for the UPA government to address the problem of sexual assault.
  • protests against the NDA administration:
      • People believe that the present NDA government treats protests differently than past ones.
      • Such demonstrations frequently carry the label of being “anti-national,” and they struggle to win over the people.
      • The way the administration handles protests is perceived as demoralising people and instilling a sense of helplessness.
  • Limited Public Support for Current Protests: 
      • The public has not given much support to the wrestlers’ protests calling for action against the WFI president and MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
      • There haven’t been any sizable rallies or protests, in contrast to the intense public mobilisation experienced during the Nirbhaya protests.
      • In contrast to prior protests, this one has received little backing from middle-class and women’s organisations.
  • Middle-class participation in social activism:
      • The middle class had actively engaged in demonstrations like the Nirbhaya and Anna Hazare Andolan.
      • Neoliberalism and Hindutva politics are both supported by the middle class in a consistent ideological manner.
      • Their support for protests is influenced by their shifting political allegiances, and at the moment they are staunch supporters of the NDA administration.
  • Challenges and Complexities of Protests: 
      • Majoritarian politics, where the government’s narrative is easily accepted even when the law is not obeyed, presents difficulties for protests.
      • The assistance provided by some groups, such as khap panchayats, brings attention to the social dynamics and identity difficulties present in protests.
      • A tighter focus on the issues and a need for intersectional viewpoints are shown by the lack of support from women’s groups and civil society organisations.
  • Quiescence and Normalisation of Patriarchy: 
    • Both the middle class and the disadvantaged classes exhibit a sense of complacency.
    • The government faces little public pressure to handle issues like sexual harassment, which reflects society’s normalisation of patriarchy.

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