This chapter will trace the varied ways in which criminal and civil laws in India

construct women’s sexuality as subordinate to male sexuality and systematise

sexuality within a marital, heterosexist paradigm. A range of criminal and civil

laws will be analysed from this perspective, including laws on rape, prostitution,

maintenance, adultery, divorce, homosexuality and pornography, and we will assess

whether there is a continuum between criminal and civil law as far as the construction

of women’s sexuality is concerned. Further, the chapter will access how Indian

feminists have conceptualised sexuality. We will examine the view that the focus on

legal rights and campaigns to amend the anomalies of law has created a narrow and

rigid view of sexuality within Indian feminism, wherein sexuality became an adjunct

to discussions on rape, adultery, rape and personal laws, but was rarely seen as the

flowering of women’s identity (Dietrich 1992, 3). Some issues relating to sexuality

have therefore been unexamined within Indian feminist movements, leading to a

meaningful silence on some aspects. These include: feminist understanding of

morality, marriage, monogamy and socially coercive heterosexuality. Sex workers

organisations and gay rights groups have argued that feminists have not consistently

taken a stand on debates on prostitution or gay rights. One of the issues we will

be looking at in this chapter is the validity of these claims; whether the silence is

linked to Indian feminists wanting to disengage themselves from debates that may

be seen as ‘western’ orientated, thus producing a strategic silence, or is it due to

the cultural problems of discussing sex and sexuality within India and the ways in

which feminists have responded to these challenges. The chapter will first focus

on legal interpretations of women’s sexuality in laws relating to sexual control of

women within marriage; to sexual assault and sexual harassment; to sexual practices

constructed as ‘unnatural’ therefore homosexuality or deviant, such as prostitution

and pornography and finally on feminist responses to issues of sexuality.