Though the Lok Sabha passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday evening, just 198 of the 540-odd MPs were present at that time. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and the party's vice-president Rahul Gandhi were among those conspicuous by their absence. Since both of them had earlier waxed eloquent on the need to give greater protection to women, it was surprising that they did not bother to vote for the anti-rape bill.
Instead of admitting this lapse on the part of the ruling party's president and her son, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde chose to put some of the blame on the opposition. Replying to queries about the low attendance in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday evening, he said that "our members were present in good strength. It is the benches of the other side which were not occupied."
Shinde's averment is laughable especially as he told newspersons that "The whole country was watching this bill". Surely he is intelligent enough to realise that everybody could plainly see many of the treasury benches were empty during the crucial vote.
As for the bill itself, members of the Lower House passed only a diluted version in the end. The UPA government owes an explanation to the nation as to why the bill does not recognise marital rape as a criminal offence. Also the culprits behind acid attacks will not be sentenced to life imprisonment. Activists who had pressed for a strong legislation after a 23-year-old paramedical student was gangraped in a moving bus here on Dec 16, 2012, are obviously disappointed.
The victim, generally referred to as "Nirbhaya" as her real name cannot be disclosed, was attacked so brutally with a rod that doctors at the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi had to remove her intestines in an effort to stop infection from spreading to other parts of the body. Later she was shifted to the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore where surgeons tried their best to save her. However, "Nirbhaya" succumbed to her injuries on Dec 29.