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Friday, March 15, 2013

Crimes Against Women: Death For Rapist-Murderer Now Official!



After a lot of differences and brainstorming over the past four days finally the Union Cabinet approved the Anti-Rape Bill last evening in New Delhi. The Government of India thus wants to replace the Criminal Offenses (Amendment) Ordinance promulgated in February 2013 with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013. Now the challenge before the government would be to make the Bill into a Law by getting it passed in the Indian Parliament by 22nd March 2013, because Parliament goes into a recess for a month then and by the time it resumes the session the Ordinance would lapse, that is, on April 4. Before that the government will have to overcome the opposition storm in an all-party meet on Monday.

The approved Bill recommends death penalty for rapist-murderers and also in cases where the rapist leaves the victim in a persistent vegetative state. The Bill also revises the earlier proposal of life imprisonment to rapists and mandates that the rapist will now have to spend the ‘rest of his natural life’ in jail.  Acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism and inappropriate touch or gestures or remarks will all become criminal offenses. While acid attacks would attract punishment of not less than 10 years imprisonment sustained stalking and repeated offenses of voyeurism or inappropriate touch or gestures or remarks would be made non-bailable.

The Ordinance replaced ‘rape’ with ‘sexual assault’, but thanks to protesting women activist groups the Bill dropped this proposal thus retaining ‘rape’ and making it gender specific crime instead of the proposed gender neutrality. Crime against women is the all-pervasive social malady and this is most gender specific and most gender sensitive where the perpetrator is always the male and the victim is always woman. Therefore this step of the Bill is very welcome. Of course, child abuse in another big concern that is gender neutral, but this problem has to be addressed separately.

One of the very positive and most needed provisions in the Bill is to make it mandatory to all government and private hospitals to provide free medical care to all women victims of any form of sexual attacks. The hospitals would not have to wait for police verification and their refusal to give free treatment would be a criminal offense too attracting at least one year imprisonment. This step could be termed revolutionary considering the practical difficulties experienced in such cases in India.

The most debated provision of the Bill is that of reducing the age for consensual sex from 18 to 16, the basic objective being to avoid calling all teen sex under 18 as ‘statutory rape’ and maybe also to take into account the changing times. But this provision is set to attract vehement opposition as several political parties, mostly in the feudal north, have already voiced their concern and objections. The Bill also promises to consider reducing the age for juvenile criminals from 18 to 16 which would be most welcome and timely. However the Bill prefers to be silent on the issues of marital rape. 



For a country dominated by males over the centuries what is happening is really unique, and all the credit goes to the Young India Movement for Change that shook India after the horrific Delhi Gangrape. It is now up to the political will of the country for making history in the Indian Parliament.
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