Print edition : February 22, 2013

THE report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law has been welcomed by nine leading women’s organisations in the country. Over the last 15 years, these organisations, including the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), have been campaigning for strengthening the laws for women, and they have stressed the need to address the causes of the discrimination and inequality that women suffer. These organisations, which have been cautious about recommending the death penalty for rapists and the lowering of the age for juvenile offenders, submitted memoranda to the J.S. Verma Committee.

The recommendations they have welcomed are those for the definition of rape in gender-specific terms, with a separate provision dealing with same-sex rape, recognition of marital rape, expansion of the categories of aggravated rape and rape by members of armed and paramilitary forces, recognition of trafficking as an offence and insertion of new offences in the Indian Penal Code such as stalking, disrobing and voyeurism.

They have welcomed the report’s recommendations for a review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), suggesting that permission need not be obtained for trying members of the armed forces accused of rape and sexual assault, and for the reining in of khap panchayats. They have also welcomed the crafting of a separate Bill of Rights for women that defines democratic and civil rights; the right to equality and non-discrimination; the right to life, security and bodily integrity; and the right to secured places and special protections for elderly and disabled women. The Bill of Rights says that every elderly woman must have specific measures commensurate with her physical, economic and social needs as well as access to employment and professional training, the right to freedom from violence, including sexual abuse, and discrimination based on age, and the right to be treated with dignity.

The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, a front comprising 24 organisations across the country, had submitted a detailed note to the Verma Committee regarding the special problems faced by disabled women. The platform had pointed out that over the last couple of years, there had been an increase in the number of cases of assault on girls and women with disabilities. They are more vulnerable to exploitation and are considered soft targets. In many cases, the representation said, the victims were not taken seriously either by the police or by the judicial system and their difficulty in expressing themselves compounded matters. It appears that the concerns of the groups representing the disabled have been taken serious note of by the committee. Additionally, the committee’s recommendations for preventive measures to ensure safety for women in public places, including deployment of policewomen, better lighting and security on buses and other means of public transport, have been welcomed by the nine women’s organisations.

The women’s groups, however, feel that the committee could have also addressed the need for a time-bound procedure for the trial of rape cases and a review of the abysmal state of rehabilitation of rape survivors. They also feel that the committee should have recommended enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated assault in situations where the perpetrators use their economic, social or political powers. These aspects, they argue, have a bearing on the welfare of rape survivors from the Dalit, tribal and poor sections among women. They have urged the government to bring about the requisite changes in law and implement measures suggested for improved governance. The amendments to the law on sexual assault and harassment, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill and the Bill to address sexual harassment at the workplace should be presented and passed by Parliament, they say. The Budget, they say, should provide the resources for effective implementation of laws and adequate funds to ensure long-term and short-term rehabilitation measures for rape survivors and acid-attack victims.

T.K. Rajalakshmi