(Article) CSM - May 2013: Is It Enough
The Union Cabinet on 14 March 2013 cleared a Bill providing for severe punishment for rape, acid attack, stalking and voyeurism more to the point reducing the age of consent for sex to 16 years. The bill which was named the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 lowers the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years with making of rape as a gender-specific offence under which men only can be charged for it. The Bill is brought in line with the Indian Penal Code, but at variance with the Child Protection Act, 2012, which raised it to 18.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 commonly known as the anti-rape bill came into force on, April 3 after President Pranab Mukherjee put his signature into the bill. The bill has been termed by the government as the “single pill” to address all ills (crimes) against women. But, the question is whether the bill can protect women in India. Is having a bill enough to end crimes against women? Or, better implementation of laws, more sensitive police, civil society and change in mind set can tackle the issue of crime against women? There were agreements and disagreements, but finally the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 or “anti-rape law” has been passed by Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) on, March 21. Earlier, the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on, March 19. Once President Pranab Mukherkee ratifies it and issues a notification, the Bill will become a law. The need for a strict law to deal with sex crimes against women was felt after the brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old Paramedical student in a moving bus in the national capital on December 16, last year. The victim died 13 days after the incident in a Singapore hospital on December 29, last year. The brutality of the crime shocked the nation. Indians protested on the streets to demand better safety measures for women and strict laws to punish the culprits. Under public pressure, Congress-led UPA government at the Centre formed Justice JS Verma panel to come up with strict laws to arrest crime against women.
The Cabinet approved it, before it was put to test on the Parliament. The Bill got nod from almost all the political parties, including main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with minor disagreements on some of the provisions in the Bill. “We have tried to bring in a strong law, which is prowomen and will act as a deterrent,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told lawmakers in the upper house of Parliament which approved the bill Thursday. “Such legislation has come to India for the first time and the parliament has given its approval.
It will create a revolution in the country,” he added. Some of the key points in anti-rape Bill 1. The law maintains life imprisonment for rape as the maximum sentence, yet sets down the death penalty for repeat offenders and those whose victims are left in a “vegetative state”. 2. It also expands the meaning of rape to include penetration of the mouth, anus, urethra or vagina with the penis or any other object without consent. 3. It also defines stalking and voyeurism as crimes with punishments up to seven years. 4. Gang rape has been recognised as an offence, while sexual harassment has been redefined to include unwelcome advances with sexual overtures and showing pornography without consent. 5. The age of consent of sex has been kept at 18. 6. The law also punishes police and hospital authorities with imprisonment of up to two years if they fail to register a complaint or treat a victim.
The bill brought against the milieu of the 16 December 2012 Delhi gangrape, provides for minimum jail term of 20 years for rape which may be extended to natural life of the convict in jail. There is also provision for death sentence if the victim dies or is left in a ‘persistent vegetative state’. Stalking, voyeurisms have been defined as criminal offences in the bill. Sustained stalking will be a nonbailable offence.
As per the bill there is replacement in more general expression sexual assault used in the ordinance. It also provides for the death sentence if the rape victim dies or ends up in a vegetative state. The approval of the Cabinet paves the way for introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 in Parliament before it goes into recess on 22 March 2013. The bill also proposes a punishment of not less than 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment Defining acid attack as a separate IPC offence. Repeat offences of voyeurism, inappropriate touch, gesture and remarks have been recommended as non-bailable offences.
The Union Cabinet today approved the proposal for introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment ) Bill, 2012 in the Parliament. The Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report on ‘Review of Rape Laws‘ as well the National Commission for Women have recommended for stringent punishment for the offence of rape. The High Powered Committee (HPC) constituted under the Chairmanship of Union Home Secretary examined the recommendations of Law Commission, NCW and suggestions various quarters on the subject submitted its Report along with the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2011 and recommended to the Government for its enactment. The draft was further examined in consultation with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Law & Justice and the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 was prepared. The highlights of the Bill include substituting sections 375, 376, 376A and 376B by replacing the existing sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C and 376D of the Indian Penal Code,1860, replacing the word ‘rape’ wherever it occurs by the words ‘sexual assault‘, to make the offence of sexual assault gender neutral, and also widening the scope of the offence sexual assault. The punishment for sexual assault will be for a minimum of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life and also fine for aggravated sexual assault, i.e., by a police officer within his jurisdiction or a public servant / manager or person talking advantage of his position of authority etc. The punishment will be rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than ten years which may extend to life imprisonment and also fine.
The age of consent has been raised from 16 years to 18 years in sexual assault. However, it is proposed that the sexual intercourse by a man with own wife being under sixteen years of age is not sexual assault. Provision for enhancement of punishment under sections 354 and 509 of IPC and insertion of sections 326A and 326B in the IPC for making acid attack a specific offence have been made.
R K Seth