Oxford dictionary defines the word consent as “Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”. This is not just some other word in English dictionary, but this is a word that everyone needs to know about and understand. Now you must be thinking, this is a simple English word that even beginners know about. But in reality, do they ?
Consent is a word also very important legally. There are many types of consents, verbal, formal, informal, written, legal etc. Even a doctor needs consent of the patient before examining him/her or beginning treatment. Section 13 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 defines consent as “Two or more persons are said to consent when they agree upon the same thing in the same sense.”
Although I am going to talk about consent in terms of sexual or physical contact here. Law allows two people of legal age to indulge in physical relations privately. But the word “consent” plays a major role here. Nobody has the legal or any other form right, privilege or authority to even touch a person against will or without consent, let alone establish sexual contact.
Consent in terms of sexual contact has been very well defined in explanation 2 of section 375 of IPC which defines rape. Rather than going into complex legal definitions, the basic meaning according to that section is an unequivocal voluntary agreement where willingness in participating in a sexual act is communicated in sound state of mind. All around the world, society as well as legal fraternity have tried to add “ifs and buts” to this simple definition. Circumstances, situations, lifestyle of the person, apparel or clothing of the person, drinking habits, past sexual history, profession, timing of the incident and such other insignificant things that have nothing remotely to do with consent are unnecessarily brought into picture and as they say “character” of the person is established. Based on this assumed character of the person, responsibility or “fault” of the incident is branded on the victim. Unfortunately sometimes these assumptions and societal stereotyping are also brought in a court of law, after all people in the legal fraternity too belong to the same society. Some even go to an extent of saying “The victim deserved that or was asking for it”. Basic consent as human right is overlooked.
This needs to change now, this needs to stop. “NO MEANS NO”, whatsoever. This simple line needs to be inculcated in children’s minds right from their growing years. For all practical purposes and uniformity in teaching due to cultural differences in upbringing, I strongly feel the need of addition of the meaning of the word consent with elaborate illustrations in primary school education itself. I believe, that in the long run this simple step alone will play a major reforming role in bringing a change in mindset of people.