Crime against women: Dithering even after Ram Singh's death?

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New Delhi, March 12: Even the death of gangrape prime accused Ram Singh was not enough to shake the Union Cabinet and resolve differences over the bill on crime against women or popularly known as anti-rape law.

The cabinet today deferred decision on the bill, second time in the last one week. After making tall claims and announcements last week during Women's Day, the gigantic machinery of the government failed to provide a coherent legislation to protect women. In such a scenario, providing for an environment of safety for women is still a dream, and till then the women will live in constant loop of nightmare.

With so many eminent lawyers, the cabinet is well-equipped to frame a tough and smart law, which they know will be at least a deterent to the criminal.

Delhi Protest

We have no heard any politician take a tough stand like this South African politicians. South African women face one of the worst rate of sexual abuse in the world.

"Something must be done to disable the tool of trade that rapists are using," said Thandi Modise, premier of North West province in South Africa. She is also the member of ruling African National Congress.

Thandi Modise, herself a rape victim when she was 15 years old, has suggested the law is not harsh enough on rapists. She believes rapists should be chemically castrated to tamper with their evil potency.

What are contentious issues?

* Differences over lowering the age of consensual sex to 16 years. The bill proposes that the age of consent be lowered from 18 to 16. The issue had led to lengthy inter-ministry consultations with some arguing that it should not be reduced. Sexual intercourse under the age of consent is considered statutory rape.

* No agreement on issues such as whether the word "rape" - which is more gender specific- should replace "sexual assault" - which is gender neutral. (The home ministry feels that "sexual assault" should be used instead of rape as it is gender neutral while the ministry of women and child development fears that the provision will be misused by men.)

* How to define voyeurism and stalking and have enough enough safeguards against false evidence and testimony. They have been listed as criminal offences in the ordinance.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 will replace the February 3 Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance. The Ordinance will lapse on April 4 - six weeks from February 21 when the Budget session was convened. Since the ordinance is the 'law of the land' as of today, cases of rape and similar crimes will continue to be registered under its provisions till the President signs the new bill to make it into law.

Dithering not good

Even Justice Usha Mehra, who recently submitted a report on the gangrape case, was unhappy with the government for dithering on a strong anti-rape law.

A former Delhi High Court judge, Justice Mehra expressed "surprise" at the debate on the definition of rape and advocated strong punishment for juveniles who had committed heinous crimes. "Even now Parliament is divided on whether the law should be sexual assault or rape. I'm surprised. Why are they still deliberating?"

According to her the current definition for rape was inadequate and had to be substituted with a more comprehensive one.

"Even non-penetration is an offence....but if you go by the current definition then a rod penetrating a vagina is not an offence. It should be an offence. We need strong laws," she said.

Till the law is made and efforts are made to change social climate, there should be civil society movement to bring in some change. Justice Mehra says a committee of civil society members like resident welfare associations and retired government officials or army men in a particular colony should supervise the working of local police. The oversight committee should work to make police more accountable. "I think this would ensure a lot of change in the attitude of the people".

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