Anti-rape law in India: NALSAR Univ opposes death penalty

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Rape
Hyderabad, Jan 9: The legacy of sending suggestions to three-member team of Verma Committee headed by former Chief Justice of India JS Verma continues. This time, the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University, located in Shamirpet, Hyderabad, came forward to help the committee which will suggest amendments in law to provide quicker trial and more stringent punishment in "aggravated sexual assault" cases amid demands for death penalty.

The NALSAR University, however, opposed capital punishment for the crime of rape and rather emphasised on 'real consent' of the victim in determining rape. [Read: Verma committee flooded with suggestions on rape]

In order to provide better security to women in the country, the paper submitted by the university pleaded for legal reforms besides some community oriented changes such as making safe public spaces available for women with freedom of dress and neighbourhood policing.

The paper also opposed blaming victims for rape. This suggestion was given under circumstances where some well-known persons such as self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu, Samajwadi Party MP Abu Azmi, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat allegedly had claimed that western culture, fashions and women are responsible for crimes against them.

The paper from NALSAR reminded the need for immediate health care response systems, especially trauma care for the victim, which should be independent of the investigative and judicial process, yet be mandated by law as a non-negotiable.

It also suggested expansion of definition of rape from present limited scope of peno-vaginal penetration of a female by a male to include penetration by any body part or object of a person of any sex. NALSAR recognised a need to extend "sexual assault" to other sexualised forms of violence such as molestation. It laid stress on the need to consider whether there was real consent of the victim.

Marital rape:

Strongly recommending criminalisation of 'marital rape', the NALSAR paper said that the marriage should not mean all time consent to husband for sexual intercourse.

The Law University has also sought criminalisation of medical rape, which is permitted by legal exceptions facilitating the infamous 'two-finger' test in medical investigation. Relying on such a test was criticised as another rape of the victim.

Juvenile Justice:

The Juvenile Justice Act 2000 is the result of deep research and study of jurisprudence and experience of various countries. The Act follows universal standards of juvenile justice and NALSAR did not recommend that this legislation be changed to reduce the age of juvenile from 18 to 16 because a 17 year young person was involved in ghastly gangrape.

Aggravated forms of rape:

The NALSAR supported the introduction of new provisions in law dealing with aggravated forms of rape, perpetuating power structures and hierarchies including caste, class and religious dominance. It is a clear recognition that rape is not just an act of sexualised violence but also an act of humiliation, power and coercion. NALSAR recommended punishing rape committed by a person who is known to the victim with rigorous punishment of not less than 10 years.

The NALSAR has recommended speedy adoption of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill and also punishing refusal to register a crime as dereliction of duty as an independent offence introducing command responsibility. An exemplary punitive monetary compensation in aggravated violence against women, such as acid attacks was also suggested.

The NALSAR paper favoured introduction of provisions that independently criminalise acid attacks, witch hunts, public parading and degradation with clear definitions.

The community oriented suggestions in the NALSAR paper include:

(a) safety audit with local community participation in detailing points of vulnerability in their neighbourhood,
(b) sanitation, as in villages are forced to defecate in isolated areas leading to the high incidence of sexual assaults in wee hours of the morning in fields,
(c) a concerted effort by the government to publicise the fact that public spaces belong equally to all genders and that the state shall ensure the security of its citizens,
(d) lighting, as darkness increases every persons' vulnerability to crime and
(e) facilitate to help women to reclaim empty spaces on campuses, institutions, subways, parks to avoid isolated travels.

Community policing:

The NALSAR also listed detailed measures in the community policing that promote organisational strategies to support systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear of crime. This is possible with partnerships with other Government agencies, nonprofit service providers, private businesses and media. The paper suggested considering reintroduction of beat policing, identifying 'sexual violence maps' and zero tolerance through increased deployment of personnel, community policing initiatives and improved infrastructure to eliminate threats.

Safe walk and safe rides:

Another significant suggestion was about safe walk and safe rides as a service that can be effective in university campuses. Law enforcement along with the university should set up a system wherein students can phone a hotline seeking dispatch walking buddies to accompany that student from a place to destination. Like in US, the 'blue light' emergency call buttons stationed at regular intervals along roads in their campuses connected to dispatch rooms that have specific response teams also will help in securing the places.

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