What should be the age of consensual sex, 16 or 18? The debate in India is about the right of a 16-year old girl to legally say that she had sex willingly. Otherwise any boy or man can be criminally charged irrespective of what the girl’s views are.
This question is a no-brainer in the civilized world. It should have been in India too. Today in this country, 16-year olds can be sexually active, especially in the urban milieu when kids are exposed to material such as Internet porn before hitting their teens. Parents may rightly disagree and dismiss such a happening as too early and too immature. But, does that make teen sex a criminal act or a matter of social persuasion, emotional understanding and parental guidance.
Given India’s socio-economic diversity, it is important to shield girls from impoverished backgrounds who are among the most exploited. There can be safeguards, such as a complaint of misdemeanor, that usually brings the authorities into the picture, triggering provisions that provide absolute protection to the girl and her legal guardians.
The dissonance in the government is due to policy making and political debates in India being reduced to portraying an image rather than substance, superficiality rather than real meaning, hyperbole rather than rationality.
Recognizing sexual change remains a taboo subject. Siding with evolving sexual behavior among the youth is seen as promoting free sex, backing loose, hippie, immoral, amoral characters, hurting a deep seated conservative patriarchal mindset. It took a while for authorities to recognize that gays are a social condition, not criminals.
The double speak reflects the deterioration and dithering in informed debate in India, where shouting and walk outs dominates Parliament proceedings, no different from the meaningless verbal slugging on TV channels, involving the same set of people over and over again. There is talk about emancipation of women, at the same time females are accused of inviting rape due to wearing skirts or those in jeans are seen as wanting their backsides pinched.
Questioning the efficacy of an anti-poverty program is being anti-poor; speaking about economic reforms is giving into imperialism, American hegemony and profit seeking multinationals; terrorism is a failure of Pakistan and not our security agencies; pro-minority is secular, passively backing communal riots is an instrument of political survival; if there is nobody to blame, point a finger at the imaginary foreign hand.
Shallow shibboleths determine policy making, response of authorities or political outfits — reservations and not merit matters; the salaried are expected to be tax compliant while the rich get away; high income is untaxed agricultural income; crocodile tears are shed about cause of the aam admi (common man) while personal land banks are created; too many pretend to be pro-poor without caring for basic education and health facilities.
There is talk of containing the fiscal deficit to check inflation even as the government spends gargantuan amounts of public money on image enhancing unproductive anti-poor programs that only increases prices.
Authorities in India are the last to recognize the nuances of change, emancipation and empowerment, especially of women and the youth.
Freedom of expression exists only on paper as kids are arrested for innocuous statements on social networking sites such as Facebook, for supposedly hurting public sentiments and threatening peace.
At the same time, political leaders such as Raj Thackeray, the promoter of politics of physical assault, speak openly about breaking bones and beating up those from a particular community termed outsiders in Maharashtra. The police of course choose to keep away from rabble rousing politicians, rather they are obsequious.
Authorities fail to respond to evolving social patterns and behavior, unless there is a selfish interest. Liquor vends, for example, mushroom at a pace that any super-efficient sales team at a private entity cannot match. Hush money to grant license and huge excise duty collections prompts quick government action.
There is no qualification to be a political leader in India today. There are some common threads though. Too many are fighting corruption, murder, extortion, rape charges. All are rich and getting richer.
In such a scenario, criminals and gang lords such as Raja Bhaiya in Uttar Pradesh have donned the role of Robin Hood characters due to failure of the state to protect and deliver essential services.
In the movies Chulbul Pandey breaks the law to maintain order is cheered the most. India needs informed debate and fast track decisions. Selfish quibbling is already hurting. The country’s growth rate has dipped.
It suits some when everybody else is uniformly badly off. It raises less questions, lowers aspirations, push for change. The momentum towards bettering our lives and the generations to follow, including the right of 16 year olds to say yes or no to sex, should not be curtailed.
(Buy my novel An Offbeat Story, here. Read extracts here. The book is a bestseller on Snapdeal. The book has been described by a prominent book critic as very humorous and entertaining reality fiction novel)