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YOUNG ROMANCE

How about a reality check, netaji?

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The entire debate about the age of consent shows the total disconnect between the youth of this country and its politicians.

A woefully inadequate knowledge of the working of the political system, teamed with distrust of netas in general, has always kept me - and most young people around me - away from political debates and discourses. The educated youth of our country and our politicians are constantly second guessing one another from their respective corners in a metaphorical boxing ring. Each thinks the other is foolish and disconnected.

The recent debate about whether the age of consensual sex should be 16 or 18 highlights this. I tried to ask people around me if it mattered and they gave me what is popularly called the 'stink-eye' which can be translated as the 'What is wrong with you?' look.

The truth is that we couldn't care less.

The more popular boys in my school spent hours sitting on the stairs of the dark basement - holding hands - or so we assumed - but it could have been more than that. And none of them were 18. No matter how much I would like to see them rot in jail, I don't think their actions amounted to sexual assault.

On a news channel, one well known feminist, on being asked if she thought that boys less than 16 years of age should be locked up if found engaging in sexual activity, said they should be reformed. This cemented my view that we are always reactive, and almost never proactive. Should we not be promoting sexual awareness rather than fear? Should 16-year-olds, who we think are too immature to make sexual decisions, be locked up for being curious about their bodies? Should we not be advocating abstinence if we are scared of promiscuity among teens? We don't need laws to convey moral messages.

As a woman friend of mine from an elite Delhi school points out ironically: 'It's okay if I get raped by my husband, but it's not okay if I willingly kiss my boyfriend. We are okay with anything if it's curtained by marriage. ' I don't think she needed me to decide for her whether she should or shouldn't kiss her boyfriend. The debate is not about the demerits of early sexual activity, it's about whether it should be criminalised. A large number of the politicians and activists who were protesting against the lowering of the age argued that it's in direct conflict with the minimum age of marriageability. Proponents of this view believe that there should be a match between the legal age of marriage and age of consensual sex. I feel like giving them a blanket stink-eye. The wise people didn't arrive at the marriageable age because they thought 18 was the right age to start having sex. They arrived at it because that is when a woman's body and mind are considered mature enough to deal with marriage and all that it brings. People carry on about tradition but they forget that traditions change but culture endures. Our culture asks us to respect sexual freedom. But our traditions have been twisted to brand sex as a subject of fear and loathing. We shy away from educating our children about sexuality and responsible sexual behaviour, shove these topics under the carpet and hope a law would deter them from sex. Would it not be better to educate them and empower them so that they can make better decisions?

Sanchi Buddhiraja, a school teacher, says that criminalising teen sex is no way to curb promiscuous behaviour. "Just because we lack the moral strength to prevent questionable sexual behaviour among children doesn't mean we should criminalise it. It's our failure, not theirs. " Then she points out a fact that has been staring us in the face for a long time now: "Sixteen-year-olds today are more like 20-year-olds now. They know much more about sex than I do. "

In India, we are desperately looking for reasons that encourage sexually deviant behaviour, often justifying the perpetrator's behaviour and shifting the blame to the victim instead. Everything from the clothes we wear, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, is questioned, and now, it's the time for a girl's age and her consent to occupy centrestage.

There are concerns that lowering the age to 16 might encourage child abuse, but the chairman of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights supports it, and it's appalling that we can't respect an institution whose sole purpose is to safeguard the rights of children. And if we do fear sexual exploitation of children by adults, we should selectively criminalise sexual activity of a minor with someone who's older by more than 'x' number of years, 'x' being open to debate. It's a common practice in a lot of countries, and it's not exactly rocket science.

While the 16 vs 18 debate goes on, the bigger discourse is still out in the cold: how do we deal with increasing instances of rape in our society?

We, the young generation, can do nothing more than watch the theatrics in the Lok Sabha where politicians brand us as deviants who want to engage sexually as soon as we turn 16 or see a girl in a skirt or hear a song on the television. For once, we hope they would open their eyes to the reality.

Datta is a writer of young romances.

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