Half-hearted exercise

Print edition : April 19, 2013

In New Delhi, at a protest by activists demanding the implementation of harsher punishments and quicker trials in rape cases, in February. Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP

THE Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013, passed by the Lok Sabha on March 19 and by the Rajya Sabha on March 21, to amend rape-related laws comes across as a half-hearted exercise by the political class to address the issue of violence against women. The plea by women’s organisations that the recommendations in the Justice J.S. Verma Committee report find a place in it has been ignored.

The Bill includes stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks as offences and prescribes punishment for aggravated forms of rape and gang rape, but it fails to consider the Verma report recommendations pertaining to anti-women provisions such as Sections 354 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code, which only punish assaults and gestures that “outrage the modesty of women”.

The All India Democratic Women’s Association expressed its disappointment with the Bill and is hopeful of the neglected provisions included at some stage.

The Bill excludes marital rape, maintaining the view that forcible sexual intercourse or sexual acts with one’s wife is not rape. It also dilutes certain progressive features in the 2010 draft of the Bill. That draft had held that rape committed by a person of social, economic and political dominance would be considered an aggravated form of rape. The new Bill removes the word “political” in the sentence.

One area that was hotly debated during the redrafting of the Bill was the age of consent for sexual intercourse. Women’s groups demanded that young boys between the ages of 16 and 18 should be protected from the criminal consequences of statutory rape and recommended that such consensual activity should not be construed as rape excepting where the accused person was more than five years older than the girl.

In the case of armed forces personnel accused of sexual offences, the requirement of the permission of their higher authorities to prosecute them has been retained whereas the Verma Committee and women’s organisations want it removed.

The debate in Parliament drew conservative reactions from several sections on the issue of age of consent; they cited cultural reasons and other grounds, mostly spurious. Some members found the inclusion of stalking and voyeurism laughable.

A few members raised the bogey of misuse of laws such as Section 498 A of the IPC (cruelty by husband or his relative).

T.K. Rajalakshmi