Need for Gender-Neutral Reforms in India


This paper aims to analyse the need for gender-neutral reforms in India. The constitution of our country has an entire Article (15, clause 3) dedicated to implementing gender-specific legislation, so is there any scope for such reforms? There has been a constant backlash from many feminist groups against the implementation of gender-neutral laws. What our lawmakers and feminist groups have deliberately overlooked is the misuse of these gender-specific laws by women which has led to many false convictions. Offences that take place against men cannot be sidelined in the name of protecting women. Does this mean that our country shouldn’t have gender-specific laws? The answer is No. We can’t ignore the unequal treatment of women since immemorial times and women’s empowerment hasn’t been achieved in its true sense. Repealing gender-specific laws will only aggravate the situation and subject them to more cruelty. What needs to be done is that genders other than females should also be granted legal protection which women have.  Sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, voyeurism, rape etc. can happen to anyone and the understanding that only women can be the victim is outdated. The argument that there is a lack of data to support male victimisation is flawed in itself. The fact, that there is no law to protect genders other than female is the reason behind the under-reporting of such cases. Even if one person couldn’t seek justice because there were no laws to protect them is a failure of our legal system. “Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 


A video went viral in August, showing a woman publicly slapping a cab driver on record 22 times following an altercation at a busy traffic intersection in Lucknow. People in the background of the video can be heard saying, “if it was a guy in the girl’s place, would this have gone on for this long?” The girl was seen dragging the driver by his collar and hitting him. Our former union minister for women and child development Smt Renuka Chaudhary, when asked in an interview if she thought that men should suffer first before she considers amendments to check misuse of the domestic violence law, 2005,  she replied, “it’s not such a bad idea, except that I have such pity for men.” She blatantly said, “ it’s men’s time to suffer.” Such statements coming from a member of parliament are appalling. It is undeniably true that women have been the most vulnerable in our country and violence against them continues even in the 21st century. However, in the name of the protection of women, the prosecution of innocent men is against the rule of law. 

Living in a society in which patriarchy is deeply embedded, it becomes extremely difficult to acknowledge, let alone accept that men can also be at the receiving end. As a result, Indian law is based on the assumption that the victim of rape can only be a woman. Sexual violence against genders other than female is either subdued or softly dealt with and on most occasions, the law seems to be ignorant particularly when it concerns male victims. Though there are provisions protecting the transgender facing sexual abuse, they are not as sensitive or as protective as they are in the case of female victims. For example, the severest punishment under the Transgender Act against sexual abuse ranges between 6 months to 2 years whereas similar crimes against cis women carry a punishment of life imprisonment and even the death penalty in some cases, as mentioned in the Indian Penal Code. Our society’s conventional thinking that sexual violence is only limited to women is a major obstacle to reporting such violence by other genders. One fine example of the same unfortunate state is that police officers often refuse to file a complaint as they find it very hard to believe that men can also be the victims and ridicule them for not exercising their so-called ‘manhood’. 

With such a huge and diverse population of various genders and sexual orientations i.e. male, female, and transgenders the concept of gender-neutral criminal laws in India is hard to find. To understand the meaning of gender-neutral laws we have to understand what constitutes gender-neutral i.e. are we only considering ‘male body’ and ‘female body’ in the ambit of gender neutrality? Because of our normative understanding, we tend to overlook the plight of the transgender community, which includes hijras and kothis in the Indian context and the intersex, making them the most neglected gender in our country. 

What is gender neutrality?

This brings us to the very pertinent question: what does gender neutrality mean? Gender neutrality is a perception that postulates the abolition of discrimination between different sexes in legislation and the implementation of laws. It aims to provide equal rights, irrespectiv

e of sex, viz., equal protection before the law, equal pay for equal work, etc. In layman’s terms, this means looking at a particular crime or an inappropriate, wrong behaviour irrespective of the gender of the person committing that behaviour; identifying the wrong and removing the gender from it. For example,  If we refer to the Protection of children from sexual offences Act, 2012, a child has been defined as “any person below the age of eighteen years”. Here we can see that no gender is specified and using the word “any” denotes equality for all genders. 

Arvind Narrain (2013) gives three dimensions of gender neutrality-

1) Gender neutrality concerning the victim 

2) Neutrality concerning the perpetrator 

3) Neutrality in custodial, communal, war, and conflict situations 

The present paper would deal with the first two dimensions. 

  • Gender neutrality concerning the victim

“All human beings are potential rape victims. Spouses are raped. Male and female children are raped. Babies are raped. Physically handicapped persons are raped. Anaesthetised patients are raped. Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters are raped. Adolescents rape one another as well as older persons and children. Male and female prisoners rape each other. During wars, soldiers have been known to rape entire communities—males rape females and males. Many rapists are gender and age-blind. Females rape other females and males. No person is immune from the human potential to rape or be raped.”- McMullan (1990) 

It is quite unfortunate that the Indian law on rape is still based on the belief that a victim of rape can only be a ‘woman’. This arises from the assumption that rape is an act of sex alone to satisfy the sexual desire of the perpetrator. However, there is a growing awareness that sexual assault is not only an act of lust and desire but also a manner of showing dominance or superiority of one caste, class, religion, or community over the other and is an act of power and humiliation. If this is so, then there is no reason that males and transgenders are excluded from being rape victims in India.  Similar is in the Domestic Violence Act of 2005. This act blatantly denies protection to men and transgenders against any form of domestic abuse. In the US, male rape has been documented by a few organizations. Statistics show that in  2003 one in every ten rape victims was male. 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual assault or rape. Even though coercive man-on-man sexual intercourse is covered under Section 377 of the IPC, the law itself is very vague as there is no distinction between consensual and nonconsensual sexual intercourse. 

Gender neutrality concerning the perpetrator

The reality that even women can be perpetrators of such crimes is bluntly ignored by Indian society as well as the judiciary and executive. Most of the provisions of the Indian penal code are gender specific and fail to identify anyone except the man as the perpetrator of a criminal offence. Such provisions have been discussed in the subsequent sections. 

Gender-biased laws in India 

Legislations that are enacted in India currently punish only the male gender and not the female for crimes such as sexual assault, stalking, adultery, voyeurism, rape, domestic violence, harassment in the workplace, etc. I will be throwing some light on a few gender-biased provisions of the Indian penal code. The definition of  ‘gender’ in IPC is not inclusive; it introduces just two genders, not keeping up with modern times; the third gender is not included in the definition. It calls for the derivatives of the pronoun ‘he’, implying the pronouns that will be taken as gender will be ‘he’ and ‘she’.

  • Section 498A

On 5 May, a businessman from Odisha named Rahul Agarwal committed suicide by jumping off a building. A video surfaced on various social media platforms in which the deceased was seen narrating his ordeal of being “falsely implicated” in a dowry harassment case (booked under Sec 498A of the IPC) by his wife and her family. His parents too were accused in the case, and the deceased expressed his helplessness at not being able to do anything in that regard.

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code talks about women being subjected to cruelty and demand for property at the hands of a husband or his relatives. It deals with cruelty inflicted on women in any form which includes harassment. Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act is read along with this section which provides for a presumption of abetment of suicide by a husband or by any relative of the husband. The offence is non-bailable, non-compoundable and cognizable. 

Now, there are two issues with this section which I seek to address. First, since the offence is grave, as soon as the complaint is registered, the husband and his relatives are arrested and put in jail without any thorough examination. The husband and his relatives tend to naturally become the guilty parties, wherein they may not have committed the said crime against the woman. The credibility of the charges isn’t examined before establishing the guilt. The universal declaration of human rights proclaims that “everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law”. There have been a lot of cases where women have ruthlessly misused this law to take revenge or to extract valuable security, money, and property. The Supreme Court in the case of Sushil Kumar Sharma vs Union of India urged women to understand that such provisions must be used as a ‘shield’ and not as an ‘assassin’s weapon’. The apex court observed that “complaints under 498A were being filed based on a personal vendetta, by the misuse of the law a new legal terrorism can be unleashed.” Secondly, this law is based on the presumption that only men can harass women and inflict violence on them, it fails to recognize cruelty which is inflicted on her husband and her in-laws by the wife. 

  • Section 354 (assault or criminal force on woman with intent to outrage her modesty)

Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code provides for penalization of assault or criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty. For example: pulling a woman, requesting her for sexual favours, removing her clothes, all these actions are intended to hurt her modesty. Section 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D, contain punishment for ‘a man’ who commits the crime of sexual harassment; it includes stalking and voyeurism. Voyeurism, Section 354C, is when a person is being watched when they do not expect it; mostly in their private moments. According to this law, only a man is capable of stalking and outraging a woman’s modesty. There are no laws which protect the modesty of men and transgenders. The situation wherein a woman commits the act of voyeurism or stalking thereby causing harm to another man, woman or third gender is completely outside the scope of the act itself. There is no scientific evidence which proves that women are not capable of committing such offences. There have been a lot of cases where women bully, stalk and harass men but unfortunately get away with it as there is no law that prosecutes them. So why is there a law which only penalizes men for committing such offences? The absence of laws that would deal with sexual harassment of men is the reason behind under-reported cases.

However, in Girdhar Gopal vs State 1952 , the Court held and brought a wide angle interpretation of section 354 IPC by saying that the offences under section 354 IPC can be committed by any man or a woman who has the necessary intent to do so. This means that not only a man but also a woman can outrage the modesty of another woman by using criminal force or an assault with the necessary knowledge and intent. In this case, a notable argument has been brought up that the IPC, 1860 gives no protection to a man against assault or criminal force inflicted by man or a woman with intent to “outrage his modesty”.

  • Section 375 (Rape)

Reading the definition of rape provides a clear indication as to who is the victim and who can be the perpetrator. “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 six descriptions”.  The issue with rape laws is that: 

  1. The fact that even a man’s consent is required for sexual intercourse has been deliberately overlooked. This comes in the wake of various stereotypes attached to both genders such as the man is in a position of power over the woman and only a woman can be a victim, and that the men tend to enjoy sexual activities and women are never interested in sex. 
  2. An exception has been placed in the section wherein if a man has sexual intercourse with his wife, it will constitute rape only when she is below the age of 15 years. This creates the problem of marital rap not being recognized as a crime in our country. The punishment in the said case where a wife may be below the age of 15 years is only 2-7 years. Within this exception, one can infer that marriage, as seen in India, functions as an institution wherein the wife implicitly provides consent to the husband for sexual intercourse and cannot be challenged.
  3. Section 375 is a victim as well as a perpetrator-specific provision as it does not take into consideration the possibility of the following scenarios –
  4. A man being raped by a woman
  5. A man being raped by a man 
  6. Rape of a third gender

In absolute simple terms, according to this narrow definition of rape, anyone who isn’t a woman will be deprived of the right to seek justice in a court of law as a rape survivor. Rape of men is a highly under-researched under-reported issue because of which many people find it unlikely to believe that it is possible. It is also a common belief that a male must be feeling aroused if he is getting an erection or can have an orgasm that automatically conveys that they are in consent and are enjoying the sexual activity, but an erection doesn’t imply consent as they can be a result of traumatic or agonizing sexual stimulations. 

Male victims also find it difficult to report any form of sexual abuse they experience, especially in a society with robust male customs like men are physically strong so they can’t be hurt by a woman, men never feel pain etc. Men may also feel helpless or fearful of fighting back due to the risk of being accused of assault and/or violence, especially in cases where the perpetrators are females. It is an absolute grave concern that the law doesn’t penalize rape incidents involving people from LGBTQI+ as victims. Already people from this community are not allowed to live with dignity and the lack of legal protection given to them will bring our society two steps back. Even though the Supreme Court decriminalized consensual homosexual intercourse in 2018, man-on-man rape is treated similar to sexual intercourse that takes place amongst homosexuals voluntarily. Section 377 failed to appreciate the vast distinction between forced male-on-male rape and consensual sex between homosexuals. The transgender persons (protection of rights) Act deals with physical and sexual assault against transgenders but the punishment is very mild compared to punishments for the same crime against females. This is discriminatory, a crime is a crime irrespective of the gender of the victim. 

  1. Sexual Harassment Law

Sexual harassment can happen to any individual irrespective of their age, sexual orientation and gender identity. India currently lacks a legal framework under which a woman can be tried as an accused of committing any sort of sexual abuse against a man. The harassment law in India extends protection only to women by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. It is necessary to understand that Sexual Harassment is not only confined to the sex or the gender of the victim. It is also about authority, control, and power. And so consequently, in today’s time and age, when the number of women successfully reaching powerful and higher positions in the workplace is constantly increasing, there is no justified reason as to why a woman who is in control and power cannot be as abusive as her male counterparts. It is therefore of utmost importance to examine and review the issue of growing incidents of assault and harassment against men in public forums. In a survey conducted in 2010 in various cities in India, 19% out of 527 men surveyed stated that they had faced sexual harassment at work. 

Source: The Times of India

Yet, the Parliament in India has repeatedly refused to enact laws combating harassment as gender-neutral. This problem of harassment among males also continues to take place even more frequently in prisons.

  1. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

Domestic violence denotes violence or other kinds of abuse by one person against another in a domestic or household setting, such as in cohabitation or marriage. The rate of Domestic Violence in India is high to an extent that one out of every five women is reportedly a victim of some form of domestic violence. To curb this, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was enacted in 2005 which guarantees protection to women against violence of all forms taking place within the matrimonial house or the family and for any other matter connected or incidental to it. But in the current scenario, often women are themselves the cause and bearer of such violence and they often play a significant role in perpetrating acts of violence against other members of the family. The Supreme Court, in its landmark verdict of Sandhya Wankhede vs. Manoj Bhimrao Wankhede, widened the scope of this act making it gender inclusive when it comes to the perpetrator. “Although the main body of Section 2(q) expressly states that a respondent is an ‘adult male’ person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person, the proviso widens the scope of a complaint, which may be filed by an aggrieved wife or female living in a relationship like marriage. No restrictive meaning has been given to the expression ‘relative’.” But the problem doesn’t end here, the act remains gender-specific regarding who the ‘aggrieved person’ can be i.e it only identifies women as victims of domestic violence. Along with this, it embodies the immense potential for the misuse of its provisions. Even when it has been comprehensively established that women are equally capable of inflicting violence and indulging in abusive behaviours while being in an intimate relationship, the law still withholds protection from male victims. The Act also offers numerous rights to women without demanding them to be accountable for their actions.

“A total of 63,343 married men committed suicide in 2012, with a fair amount of them having faced domestic problems” reported Amit Gupta from Hridaya, a local men’s rights organization. He also added that according to a survey that was carried out by his organization, it was observed that girls face beatings from their mothers nine times more than any violence from mothers-in-law, yet no one has come forward to discuss that.

  1. Section 125, Code Of Criminal Procedure Act, 1973

              ‘ Neeraj Aggarwal v. Veeka Aggarwal, Delhi District Court [2007]’

The said case was filed by the wife seeking maintenance from her husband on the ground that she is uneducated and couldn’t maintain her. However, during the further proceedings, it was revealed that she is an engineering graduate and is also pursuing an M.B.A. which meant that she could maintain herself very well. Thus, the Court observed, “One must come to the court with clean hands and shouldn’t conceal the facts, no matter what. Since the lady is well educated, she can very well maintain herself and the family and there is no need for her to sustain on the mercy of her husband.”

Section 125 of the CrPC makes it obligatory for the man to provide for maintenance to his wife as well as his children and parents. Wife includes a legally married woman and a divorced woman who hasn’t married. Section 125 is a gender-neutral provision for providing maintenance to the parents but is explicitly gender-biased when it concerns itself with the maintenance of spouses as there is no such provision which entitles a man to claim maintenance from his wife if the husband is not capable of maintaining himself. Undoubtedly, the provision was brought into practice to protect the women, who didn’t have a secure livelihood or regular income to sustain themselves. It is to be noted that the provision is meant to prevent vagrancy and destitution and to serve the needs and not the greed of the helpless. There is a need to provide special protection for women considering the patriarchal setup of the Indian society but doesn’t justify the gender-specific provision of the CrPC. In present times, women have set foot in leadership positions and are fully capable of maintaining themselves. But in many cases, this law is misused by women to harass the respondent for petty issues, which in turn ends up putting the husband/father under grave financial burdens.

The significant impact of these gender biases is essentially faced by those men who are compelled to maintain their wives while being insufficient themselves and therefore suffer indiscreetly because of the unjustified nature of the law. 

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court in 2019  challenging the constitutionality of Section 125 CrPC. The petition stated, “Section 125 of Cr.P.C. discriminates on the ground of gender explicitly in case of spouses and discriminates implicitly based on gender in case of providing maintenance to parents and children as a male is presumed to have the ability to earn if he is healthy and able-bodied while the same presumption is not applicable on women, and for them to be liable to provide maintenance, the pre-requisite is that they should have a sufficient income of their own, independent of their husband’s income.”

Why is there a shift towards gender-specific laws in India?

Even today women form an overwhelming majority of victims of gender-based crimes. Our country has seen the most horrific cases such as the infamous Nirbhaya Delhi gang rape case of 2012. It would come as a surprise that the victim in the case was accused of being out with a male friend at night. The leaders of our country made sexist remarks in the assembly by saying, “When rape is inevitable, lie down and enjoy it. That’s exactly the position in which you are”. Recently, a Kerala district and sessions Judge S Krishna Kumar said that the charge under 354A (sexual harassment) of the IPC would not be attracted if the complainant woman was wearing a ‘sexually provocative’ dress. 

Even though we live in the 21st century, practices like female foeticide and female infanticide continue to happen. People pay a lack of rupees and risk getting arrested just to get the sex of the fetus detected. Coming across such instances daily, one may think that gender-specific laws are a necessity for our country. 

The constitution itself recognised the presence of bias and therefore allowed us to make laws that cannot be challenged because they seemingly favour one gender. Clause 3 of Article 15 of the Constitution of India gives powers to the legislature to create special provisions for women and children. We live in a gendered world and absolute equality of the genders irrespective of any considerations in a gendered world might be a source of injustice. This is what holds back the implementation of gender-neutral reforms in our country. 

Owing to the above-mentioned atrocities and discrimination, our lawmakers designed the laws favouring a specific gender so that women could be bought at equal footing with men and to ensure that they are no more helpless and the most vulnerable section in society. But unfortunately, the provisions enacted by the legislature to liberate women and act as a shield against the oppressors, have been misused by some of them who use their gender as a weapon and adversely defeat the very purpose of making such laws. With an ever-increasing crime rate and crimes of all different types and natures growing and everyone in the society being equally vulnerable, we simply cannot endorse that only ‘females’ are the victims and ‘men’ are the perpetrators. It is only just and reasonable to have an all-inclusive law that recognizes the crime and the victim irrespective of gender.

Is India ready for the shift towards gender-neutral laws?

The need for gender-neutral reforms was first dealt with in Smt Sudesh Jhaku Vs. K.C.J and others (1996). While delivering the gender-based case, the Honourable Judge Shri J.Singh noted that “Men who are sexually assaulted shall have the same protection as female victims, and women who sexually assault men or other women should be liable for conviction as conventional rapists”. The Law Commission through its 172nd report on Review of Rape Laws in March 2000, recommended changes for widening the scope of the offence in section 375  by including both men and women as ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’ of sexual assault, making it gender neutral. 

The Justice Verma Committee, though was constituted for suggesting the possible amendments to the Criminal Law to enable quicker trial and enhanced punishment for offenders in sexual assault of extreme nature against women, too made its recommendation providing gender-neutral definitions concerning both victim and offender(s). In its report, the Justice Verma Committee noted, “The proposed Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2012, should be modified as suggested, and to secure public confidence, be promulgated forthwith. Since the possibility of sexual assault on men, as well as homosexual, transgender, and transsexual rape, is a reality the provisions have to be cognizant of the same”. 

As a result of various recommendations, including the 172nd Law Commission Report and the JC Verma Committee report, to have gender-neutral language in sex laws in India, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 was promulgated by the then Honourable President Shri Pranab Mukherjee with prodigious changes to IPC, Cr.P.C. and Evidence Act to reflect gender neutrality and thereby extending the scope and coverage relating to the sex laws in the Country.

This Ordinance meant that Women could also be charged with sexual offences as perpetrators. Following the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, a large section of civil society expressed its distress, anger, and discontent against these Gender-neutral provisions emphasising that women could further suffer double victimization as counter complaints of rape, sexual harassment and sexual assault could be slapped on as an intimidation tactic to have the victim withdraw their complaints. Consequently, the amendment ordinance that brought gender neutrality in the sex laws was short-lived, as it was repealed and replaced by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 which reversed the definition of rape to view only females as victims and males as the assays or offenders. It was then argued that such offences against men come under unnatural offence under section 377, but with this provision struck down comes the complete absence of any legal recourse to men who are victims of sexual assault, or rape, in contrast to the narrow definition provided in the IPC.

Numerous PILs have been filed in different high courts and Supreme Court to make rape legislation gender-neutral. In 2017, Sanjiv Kumar questioned the legitimacy of current rape statutes that solely treat ‘males’ as perpetrators in the Delhi High Court. It was said,  “the situation has changed and the society must go beyond the male-on-female paradigm”.   In its plea, the Centre said that the rules about rape should not be changed, as certain provisions are required to combat the escalating crime against women. Similarly, the Supreme Court dismissed the Public Interest Litigation filed by Rishi Malhotra seeking gender neutrality in rape laws and termed the petition as an ‘imaginative petition’ and noted that the Parliament can deal with it as per social needs. However, the Central Government, since Independence, has not shown any interest or has not been in favour of gender-neutral sex laws stating that certain sections are required to be gender specific to restrict and restrain violence against women. The objections, outcry, outrage, condemnation, and antipathy that followed the implementation of Gender Neutrality in sex laws through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013 (the bill was later withdrawn), could also be one of the reasons behind the Central Government’s disregard to such gender-neutral reforms. 

Speaking of the recent developments on this issue, senior lawyer and Rajya Sabha member KTS Tulsi introduced a private members bill. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2019 proposes amendments in the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal procedure Code, and the Indian Evidence Act to ensure that the words ‘any man’ and ‘any woman’ in the sections relating to sexual offences in the laws are changed to read as ‘any person. This would extend the protection of the law to men and transgenders. 

Gender neutrality in other countries

India should learn from the gender-neutral reforms implemented in other countries. The International Criminal Law has a gender-neutral definition of rape, “acts of sexual and gender-based violence are perpetrated on persons belonging to all genders in contexts of conflicts and mass crimes.” In National Jurisdiction, the Gender Neutrality of rape has been fairly recent. These include- the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Philippines, Finland, Ireland, and Australia Some of these jurisdictions recognize both males and females as perpetrators, while others have only made their definitions gender neutral in the case of victims. In Asia, only four countries, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan, and most of the countries in Europe and North America have gender-neutral legislations.  

The United States of America

According to the Civil Rights Act of 1984, both the ‘harasser’ and the ‘victim’ can be either woman or a man or of the same sex. As far as rape laws are concerned, in 1993, the California legislature amended the section by replacing gender-specific terms with words such as ‘persons’, ‘minor’, and ‘spouse’ thereby making it a gender-neutral law. In 2012, the US  broadened the archaic definition of rape which was established in 1927. Now, the crime of rape is defined as, “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” However, some states continued to recognize Gender specific rape. The Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994 defines domestic violence as, “felony or misdemeanour crimes of violence committed by a current or a former spouse or intimate partner of the victim”. The act applies to all victims of domestic violence, irrespective of their gender, thus making it gender-neutral. 


Sexual harassment is illegal in Australia under the Sex Discrimination Act, 1984. This act is gender neutral, as it makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, intersex status, marital or relationship status, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Earlier, the definition of sexual intercourse was gender specific but after amendments, the common law crime of rape was made gender-neutral. Even the voyeurism laws in Australia don’t specify the gender, either of the victim or the perpetrator, making it truly gender-neutral. The family Law Act of 1975 defined domestic violence as a type of family violence which occurs between current or former intimate partners. Gender-neutral language has been used to define the victim and perpetrators in this act. 

The United Kingdom

In the UK, the Equality Act of 2010 deals with sexual harassment which protects both men and women. Erstwhile English Common Law did not formally recognize male rape. Sexual Assault of Males was recorded and penalized as non-consensual buggery, which carried a lesser sentence. 1994 onwards, the Law recognizes males as victims of Rape. The 2003 Sexual Offences Act 2003 recognizes penetration of the mouth, anus, or vagina with the defendant’s penis as Rape. The Scottish and Irish Statues for Sexual Offences also recognize males as victims. However, a female or a non-male person cannot be charged with Rape; but can be charged with Sexual Assault which carries a lesser sentence.

Suggested reforms and recommendations

  1. As gender-neutral laws concerning sexual harassment have been recognised and accepted in most countries in the world such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, and the USA, similarly in India, a fully functional law should be put into force which protects men and transgenders from sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism and penalizes the perpetrator irrespective of their gender. Also, the punishment should be equally harsh as it is in the case of gender-specific laws for eg, the POSH Act of 2013. 
  2. Domestic violence in India, as stated, is only reviewed in the context of women as victims. Males are always seen in the position of the wrongdoer. However, considering the socioeconomic changes in society that have largely affected the family arrangement, domestic violence is no longer limited only to female victims. Men also face domestic abuse physically, sexually, verbally, mentally, and psychologically. The biggest problem with such abuse is that men are more likely to never report such behaviours and therefore end up suffering silently. The proposal, therefore, is to consider Domestic violence as spousal violence and make both, the DV Act and 498A gender inclusive.
  3. The third gender has been neglected severely. The least our country could do to improve the conditions of this community is to make the language of the Indian Penal Code more gender inclusive. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019  pushed by the centre, did recognise the offence of sexual abuse towards transgender persons. Still, the penalties differ from when the same crime is committed against a woman. The prescribed punishment ranges from 6 months which may extend to 2 years along with a fine. The period is less. Therefore, the punishment should be made more harsh and stringent owing to the crimes experienced by this community with barely any legal recourse.
  4. As there is a statutory body called the National Commission for Women that advocate for women’s right and address their concerns. There should be a similar body made for men on the lines of NCW and it’s high time that it gets established. Such a body would create awareness and help the inflicted parties in fighting false accusation cases by providing legal support. It would also ensure the implementation of gender-neutral policies. 
  5. We can’t turn a blind eye to the misuse of provisions by women to take revenge, matters related to money and property etc. This entirely defeats the purpose of making gender-specific laws and hurdles access to such provisions for those aggrieved women. Women must be subjected to an equal term of imprisonment if she is found guilty of filing a fake case, without any mercy. This way, certainly, the fake cases will reduce when the word spreads out. 
  6. Sections 354C (voyeurism) and 354D (stalking) brought in by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013, penalised only men for such offences making it gender specific while the same amendment concerning acid attacks was gender neutral. Making a few offences gender neutral and others gender specific which punishes men only is highly unreasonable because the same acts can be committed by women as well. The law is suggestive of the fact that only men can commit these wrongs and assume that men can never be the victims of such acts. The lawmakers need to realize that crime is a crime and these are acts of crime just like murder and homicide that can implicate women also.
  7. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 based on the recommendations of the 172nd report of the Law Commission and JC Verma Committee, sought to expand the scope of sex laws by using gender-neutral language and replacing the word rape with sexual assault. Unfortunately, this legislation was repealed. Hence, similar legislation without reducing the harm of rape to sexual assault should be brought into force having gender-neutral language along with harsh punishments as it is in the case rape of a woman. Only then male on male rapes will be penalized.   
  8. The POCSO Act increased the age of consent from 16 to 18 for all genders. This step has serious repercussions. If a minor girl has consensual sexual intercourse with a man (irrespective of his age), he will be charged with rape as per section 375 of the IPC (which is truly gender-specific) and the girl despite giving her consent would be treated as a victim. This is an absolute injustice. Hence, the age of consent should be reduced. 


Gender-neutral reforms aren’t entirely a new wave that Indian society was unaware or ignorant of. Several statistical analyses and data collection over the last fifteen years have shown how men’s rights are being violated simply because there is no protective legislation or law in force to protect them from the filing of excessive and redundant complaints against them. Even after numerous PILs and bills, one can only think of gender-neutral reforms in India as a distant dream. Implementation of gender-neutral laws doesn’t necessarily mean diluting the present laws which protect women. The need of the hour is to acknowledge that men and transgenders are also the victims of the above-mentioned crimes and require adequate legal protection like women have so that the objectives of Article 14 of our constitution are fulfilled in its true sense. 



  1. gaz (
  2. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018 (


The Article has been written by Kriti Mutreja 

Kriti Mutreja a student of Kamala Nehru College, pursuing Political Science honours.