Featured Photo Courtesy Internet Movie Database
A man is said to commit "rape" who except in the case hereinafter excepted, has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the five following descriptions:
Firstly.- Against her will.
Secondly.- Without her consent.
Thirdly.- With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her in fear of death, or of hurt.
Fourthly.- With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband, and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married.
Fifthly.- With or without her consent, when she is under fourteen years of age.
.- Penetration is sufficient to constitute the sexual intercourse necessary to the offence of rape.
Exception.- Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under thirteen years of age, is not rape.
On surface level, Section 375 seems to be very balanced, critically showing the two sides of rape. Ajay Bahl has made an aesthetically pleasing film, a courtroom drama per excellence. The actors and actresses, mostly, deserve praise.
The surface level story goes like this:
Women get raped. Sometimes. They file fake cases out of revenge. Sometimes. People are emotional. They flood social media with posts to seek justice for the alleged victim and are hell bent to influence the pious judicial system, which makes it harder to implement the Rule of Law. Law is philosophically very different from Justice, and while the ideal is to use the train of law to reach the station of Justice, in reality that ideal is seldom actualized… if ever.
But is the story really that simple?
On a deeper level, one would find out, that there are many problems with this film.
First, there is no convincing factual and evidential explanation for how a poor costume designer like Anjali could use the system to advance her cause of false rape accusation out of revenge against a rich film director like Rohan. Is the system rigged by the poor? Is there a single real case in the judicial history of India, or its colonial cousins like Pakistan and Bangladesh, where the system conspired against the rich taking the side of the poor?
Second, while false rape cases do exist, are they filed by ‘vindictive’ women to humiliate ‘innocent’ men? Do real world experiences support this view? Or those cases are actually filed by relatively more powerful men to relatively less powerful men; for social, economic or political reasons; using women as a tool?
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the poor and women are better humans than the rich and men respectively. They are not. I’m not saying that the poor and women cannot commit crimes like the rich and men respectively. Surely they can. As individuals, anyone can be good or bad, and anyone can commit crime. But I’m not talking about the individuals.
Here, I’m talking about the social groups and the power relation in which they find themselves systematically.
There are good reasons to believe, in historically patriarchal and currently neoliberal India (and not only in India), that system actually works for the rich and men. To be more accurate, for rich men. For Rohans, in films, and in reality.
There are other problems with this film.
While we know about the private life of Tarun Saluja, we know almost nothing about Hiral Gandhi. The character of Tarun was given proper treatment, a firm believer in idealized patriarchal family and its gender roles, who places law and order above everything. Hiral is represented as his polar opposite, an idealist woman who believes in justice, though its unclear how she became one.
To confuse everyone, Hiral won the case. But here is the real twist, that after winning the case, she discovered in utter shock that her client Anjali had been a liar from the beginning. Suddenly all the protests for justice seem to be a cruel joke, women to be pathological liars, and men to be true victims who lose their family (Kainaaz left Rohan) and their career.
The film showed that it was Anjali who was primarily interested about Rohan and approached him romantically. It was only later when Rohan showed an equal interest in her and made her his mistress. But when she wished to become his wife, he became alarmed, and was slapped back to reality. He insulted her, she insulted him back. Everything was over, or so it seemed. Then she mysteriously called him and apologized. Finally, she reached his place and made love with him, only to injure herself later and file a fake rape case.
Is not it a very old cliché? That poor women seduce rich men to achieve social status and the privileges that come with it? Have not we already heard it enough?
Hence, the film Section 375 is not as simple as it looks on the surface level. It reinforces deep-rooted classist and sexist beliefs. That makes the film, despite its artistic beauty, a propaganda piece of the defenders of social hierarchy.
Finally, I would like to make the most curious observation on this film. Section 375 of the IPC, 1860 does have a disturbing feature: while the law criminalized rape, the ‘exception’ did not criminalize rape within marriage, giving a free license of rape to would-be predators. The film Section 375 did not utter a single word about this, which cannot be a coincidence.