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Decoding consent: A panel discussion

It is a well known fact that our understanding of consent is dependent on the violation of consent.

The  statement was made by Pawan Dhall, eminent social researcher and queer activist in the session Decoding Consent organised by Varta Trust, Kinky Collective and the Civilian Welfare Foundation, on the 20th of February at the Academy of Fine Arts.

In a nutshell the session focussed on the following: “What exactly is Consent? We do not know. Like most things that aren’t taught to us directly, our major source of understanding of consent is the popular media, films, and romantic quotations on social media !   So far, in the discourses of popular media, law, politics and mental health, our understanding of consent is through its violation. Perhaps, it is time for us to talk of consent in terms of its grey areas and above all positivity and mutual pleasure!”

Hence it is essential that consent requires translation and correct identification.

Besides Pawan Dhall, Anuradha Kapoor, Director of Swayam, Ending Violence Against Women,  Dr. Aniruddha Deb, a psychiatrist by profession and Kaushik Ganguly, advocate of High Court, were the panellists.

The session focused in the very beginning in defamiliarising all our popular notions centred on the culture of consent by using clips from Bollywood movies in a short visual presentation that portrayed how popular culture has always been instrumental in the formation of constructs of consent.

The session focused on the misappropriation of consent in sensitive areas of power relations, sexuality and gender. Where women are concerned, defining consent is a challenge. Once a woman has entered the state of matrimony, consent is forced upon her as she is expected to conform to the wishes of  her husband and  in-laws which silences her voice and her grievances. It impedes the development of a healthy, conjugal relationship. A woman hardly has the space to disagree.

Anuradha Kapoor’s work directed at identifying and eliminating violence against women has given her insights into the different conditions that force a woman  to live her  life “on the basis of somebody else’s consent”. She shared an incident where the wife complained that instead of physical abuse and depriving her from economic security her husband   dominates and decides for her what she should wear, what she should not wear and what suits her and what does not suit her. Infidelity on the part of the spouse also determines the power play and gender based violence in a relationship. It makes the entire business of negotiating consent for pleasure very difficult.

Kaushik Gupta, advocate of High Court, Kolkata started off with the legal definition of consent. According to the Indian Contract Act, two or more persons are said to consent when they agree upon the same thing in the same sense. Consent must be free from fraud and coercion. The culture of consent is tied up with violence and psychological pressure. People in same sex relationships also face violence from their partners. In a same sex relationship, the stereotypical masculine and feminine binaries often do not exist. But often there is a psychological pressure to surrender and stay in a relationship. Otherwise there is a constant fear of losing the partner that affects one’s self esteem.

Kaushik Gupta on talking about how consent is negotiated in the kink community said that “Consent is the fountain head of a relationship within the kink community.”
Practitioners of BDSM begin their session by discussing consent, and voicing their likes, and dislikes. They are also expected to make their partners aware of their medical condition and whether they are afflicted by sexually transmitted disease.
The concept of marital rape does not exist in India. Sex is presumed in a marriage. In the kink community sex is not presumed.

Dr. Aniruddha Deb made a very important point by answering mental health activist Ratnaboli Ray’s question that consent is both emotional and cognitive.

It becomes very difficult to negotiate consent because sex is a taboo in India. In the words of Kaushik Gupta, “We ourselves are marginalizing ourselves by depriving ourselves of the right to pleasure”. Unless we overcome our inhibitions and talk about sex and sexuality, the right to consent will always be reprimanded.


Article by Swastisha Mukherjee
Edited by Manisha 

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