1.Courts in the country continue to differ on marital rape
Contradiction arises despite recommendation by the Justice J.S. Verma Committee to make marital rape a crime
Four years after the Supreme Court referred to Justice J.S. Verma Committee’s recommendation to make marital rape a crime, besides quoting from decisions of courts across the world that “a rapist remains a rapist and marriage with the victim does not convert him into a non-rapist”, Indian courts continue to take views on marital rape that are the polar opposite of each other.
The recent response from courts to complaints of marital rape has been contradictory. When the Kerala High Court backed marital rape as a valid ground for divorce, a court in Maharashtra gave anticipatory bail to a man while concluding that forcible sex with his wife was not an “illegal thing” though she said it left her paralysed.
In 2017, the top court, in Independent Thought versus Union of India, refused to delve into the question of marital rape while examining an exception to Section 375 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code which allows a man to force sex on his wife if she is above 15 years of age. However, in its judgment that declared “sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape regardless of whether she is married or not”, the Supreme Court highlighted that legislative immunity given to marital rape stemmed from the “outdated notion that a wife is no more than a subservient chattel of her husband”.
Similarly, the Gujarat High Court has held that “a law that does not give married and unmarried women equal protection creates conditions that lead to the marital rape”. “It allows the men and women to believe that wife rape is acceptable. Making wife rape illegal or an offence will remove the destructive attitudes that promote the marital rape,” the court had suggested.
Legislative amnesty to marital rape continues to survive in the statute book despite a gamut of decisions by the Supreme Court upholding the bodily integrity and privacy of women.
The right to bodily integrity was recognised in the context of privacy in State of Maharashtra v. Madhukar Narayan Mardikar. Here, the top court observed that no one has a right to violate the person of anyone else, including of an “unchaste woman”.
In Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration, the top court backed a “woman’s right to refuse participation in sexual activity or alternatively the insistence on use of contraceptive methods”. The court has held that “rape is not only a crime against the person of a woman, it is a crime against the entire society”. In State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh, the court voiced the extent of trauma suffered by a rape survivor, saying “a murderer destroys the physical body of his victim, a rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female”.
The report submitted by the Justice J.S. Verma Committee of Amendments to Criminal Law of January 2013 had recommended the removal of the marital rape immunity. “A marital or other relationship between the perpetrator or victim is not a valid defence against the crimes of rape or sexual violation. The relationship between the accused and the complainant is not relevant to the inquiry into whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity. The fact that the accused and victim are married or in another intimate relationship may not be regarded as a mitigating factor justifying lower sentences for rape,” the committee had advised the government unsuccessfully.
The report underscored the fact that marital rape immunity had been withdrawn in most foreign jurisdictions. In England and Wales, the House of Lords had held in 1991 that “marriage is in modern times regarded as a partnership of equals, and no longer one in which the wife must be the subservient chattel of the husband”.
JS Verma Committee recommendations on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act:
- Justice J.S. Verma Committee had recommended setting up of an employment tribunal instead of an internal complaints committee (ICC) in the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act.
- To ensure speedy disposal of complaints, the committee proposed that the tribunal should not function as a civil court but may choose its own procedure to deal with each complaint.
- An internal complaints committee as laid down under the act could be counterproductive as dealing with such complaints in-house could discourage women from filing complaints.
- Domestic workers should be included within the purview of the Act.
- The Committee has termed the Sexual Harassment Act “unsatisfactory” and said it did not reflect the spirit of the Vishakha guidelines — framed by the Supreme Court in 1997 to curb sexual harassment at the workplace.
- The Committee said any “unwelcome behavior” should be seen from the subjective perception of the complainant, thus broadening the scope of the definition of sexual harassment.
- The Verma panel said an employer should be held liable if
- he or she facilitated sexual harassment
- permitted an environment where sexual misconduct becomes widespread and systematic
- Where the employer fails to disclose the company’s policy on sexual harassment and ways in which workers can file a complaint
- When the employer fails to forward a complaint to the tribunal
- The company would also be liable to pay compensation to the complainant
- The panel opposed penalizing women for false complaints as it can potentially nullify the objective of the law.
- The Verma panel also said that the time-limit of three months to file a complaint should be done away with and a complainant should not be transferred without her consent.
The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013
- The Act defines sexual harassment at the workplace and creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints. It also provides safeguards against false or malicious charges.
- Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee at each office or branch with 10 or more employees.
- The Complaints Committees have the powers of civil courts for gathering evidence.
- The Complaints Committees are required to provide for conciliation before initiating an inquiry if requested by the complainant.
- Penalties have been prescribed for employers. Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine.
- Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of license or registration to conduct business.
2.Using nanorobots in dental procedures
Spiral silica robots measuring 300 nanometres will travel through dentinal tubules, targeting bacteria
A significant percentage of root canal treatments fail, because the procedure leaves out some bacteria that are located deep within the dentinal tubules. A group of scientists including those from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, has found a way to tackle this using nanosized robots that will travel through the tubules and target the bacteria. They have also founded a company, Theranautilus, which will eventually market this technology.
Measuring no more than 300 nanometres, these spiral silica nanobots with a bit of iron embedded in them are suspended in water or water-like biocompatible medium. “There are about a billion nanorobots in 0.5 ml water. This concentration is almost a trillion times lower than the amount of silica found in a pint of beer and is effectively harmless for the human body,” explains Debayan Dasgupta, a research associate at IISc and co-founder of the company. “We inject (or rather, place them gently) in the central canal of the tooth. Then a rotating magnetic field is applied using a triaxial Helmholtz coil. The magnetic material embedded in the nanorobot has a magnetic moment that follows the applied magnetic field. This causes the nanorobot to move – like screws move into a wall.”
To the minute nanorobots, the dentinal tubules look like large channels. If the nanorobot is 300 nanometres in size, the tubules have diameters of about a few microns width and are 1,500 to 2,000 microns in length.
Once the bacterial colony is reached, the nanorobot can deploy various antibacterial strategies one of which is localised heating. “This is very effective because the bacteria we are targeting are Enterococcus faecalis, extremely hardy bacteria that are resistant to most commercially available antibiotics,” says Dr Dasgupta.
The idea is that these nanorobots can be precisely controlled spatio-temporally. “Swarms of nanorobots can be used to target different diseased sites inside teeth to neutralise the harmful biofilms following which they can be retrieved back to the physician,” says Shanmukh Srinivas Peddi, a dental surgeon and co-founder of the company.
Studying active matter
The thought of making spiral nanorobots that can be manipulated using magnetic fields originated from a question of separating left-handed and right-handed molecules using microwave fields, nearly 12 years ago. “We realised it may be possible to do the same with colloids and magnetic fields, and subsequently developed a method of making very small magnetised spirals in large quantities,” says Prof Ambarish Ghosh, from IISc, also a co-founder of the company. “Since then these spirals were shown to be great agents to study physics of active matter, useful for biophysical measurements and microfluidic manipulations, and perhaps the holy grail, is to be able to put it in human body as biomedical nanorobots.”
The Government of India every year confers through the Technology Development Board, national awards for technology development and successful commercialisation of indigenous technology. For this year, Theranautilus has won this award in the Start-up/Deep- Tech industry category. Currently the technology is being taken through the regulatory tests for drug compliance which will be followed by animal trials.
Tiny robots small enough to enter the human body are being developed by researchers for a variety of purposes including treating cancer, drug delivery and even the growth of new cells and tissues.
Why tiny robots are needed?
Doctors are often faced with the challenge of performing microsurgery to repair blood vessels, transplant tissue or reattach a severed limb. These procedures are very intricate, and surgery is often not the most effective solution since it can be very invasive and difficult to conduct. Soon, many surgeons could be turning to nanotechnology and performing delicate tasks by remotely controlling tiny robots, similar in size to a grain of rice, that could travel through the body.
Efforts are on
At Tohuku University in Japan, electrical engineer Kazushi Ishiyama and his group have designed tiny spinning screws that can swim through veins in the body. They can potentially burrow into tumours to kill them or deliver drugs to a specific tissue or organ. Since they are so small, they could be injected into the body using a standard hypodermic needle and once inside, could be magnetically steered around the body using a 3D magnetic field supply and controller. These devices will be particularly useful for removing brain tumours since they are difficult to operate on.
Instead of relying on a magnetic field, other researchers are creating microrobots powered by tiny motors that could swim through the body and help with diagnosing and treating certain conditions. Researchers have already built a liner motor the size of a salt crystal, but are now working to create an even smaller one of the width of two human hairs. Its propulsion mechanism is
similar to what the bacteria E. coli uses to swim through the body.
Other microbes being created are not solely machines. Several institutes have been involved in incorporating organic living tissue with inorganic components to create hybrid devices that are part machine, part organism. The first such devices were self-assembling micro robots powered by living heart muscle, created by engineers at the University of California, Los Angeles. Each tiny robot is composed of an arch of gold connected to a sheath of cardiac muscle grown from rat cells, and if released in the body, it feeds off glucose in the blood to get energy to move. These microbots could potentially be used in microsurgery, for example to clear out the build up of plaques within arteries. The technology also has potential for creating new legs or fingers for amputees by allowing new muscle cells to grow over artificial bones. The robots created by the researchers at US can only move in one direction and are not easy to control. They are now looking to see if using skeletal muscle instead of heart muscle could help the robots move more freely. Heart muscles tends to beat at its own rhythm and so is hard to control.