New Delhi: The proposed anti-rape Bill, which seeks to hand down stringent punishment for crimes against women, including rape and acid attack, and lower the age of consent for sex to 16, is set to face hurdles in an the all-party meeting convened by the government on Monday. Samajwadi Party, which extends outside support to UPA, has openly come out against the provisions relating to stalking and lowering of consent age from 18 to 16 years.
Main opposition BJP wants the bill to be passed at the earliest. But, it has objections to lowering of age of consent which was 18 in the ordinance issued in February.
Rubbishing the anti-rape Bill, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav has said the party will oppose its proposals in Parliament and at the all-party meeting. "We are opposed to the Bill. It has been framed on the recommendations of some mentally-retarded people," he said.
BJP also has objections to lowering of age of consent, which was 18 in the ordinance issued in February.
He was asked about the SP's stand on the anti-rape law, which has been cleared by the Cabinet and states that the age of consent be reduced to 16 from 18 years. BJP has said it favours a strong anti-rape law but has certain reservations on some of the clauses in the Bill cleared by the Cabinet and will voice them in the all-party meeting.
"BJP agrees with most issues stated in the Bill and would like it to be passed. But some sections in the party have reservations on decreasing the age of consent from 18 to 16 years. We will take a final call on these issues after discussing it in the party," a senior BJP leader said.
Party sources said decreasing the age of consent is uncalled for as the minimum age for marriage is 18 years.
BJP's core votebank as well as a majority of its leadership have conservative views on issues like pre-marital sex, the party leader said. "Decreasing the age of consent may antagonise some of our voters and that need not be tampered with," he said.
The main Opposition is not coming out openly with its views and maintains that it will voice them in the all-party meeting after intra-party confabulations. "The provisions on which there is a consensus can be passed as part of the Bill. A Standing Committee can look at the contentious issues and an amendment can be passed later," another party leader said.
Bahujan Samaj Party, another outside supporter of the UPA, has supported the bill. BSP chief Mayawati said the bill was a "necessity" and its various provisions can be discussed at length later. Some senior party leaders are studying the proposals ahead of the all-party meeting, sources said.
The anti-rape ordinance lapses on April 4 and the government is keen on passing the legislation before Parliament's four-week recess begins on March 22. The Union Cabinet had recently cleared a bill providing for stringent punishment for rape, acid attack, stalking and voyeurism besides reducing the age of consent for sex to 16 years.
The bill, brought against the backdrop of the December 16 Delhi gang-rape, provides for minimum jail term of 20 years for rape which may be extended to 'natural life' of the convict in jail or even death if the victim dies or is left in a 'persistent vegetative state'. The bill also provides for lowering the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years, one of the contentious provisions which held up the proposed legislation briefly and had to be referred to a Group of Ministers for consensus.
The Ordinance had maintained the consent age as 18 years. The bill also uses the term 'rape' which will be gender-specific, in contrast to the gender-neutral 'sexual assault' as proposed in the ordinance. This means only men can be booked for the crime.
Stalking and voyeurism have been defined as criminal offences in the bill. Sustained stalking will be a non-bailable offence. While the first offence of voyeurism is bailable, repeated offenders will be denied bail.