New Delhi: Has the ordinance on sexual harassment, meant to counter criticism about women's safety, backfired even before it was promulgated? Women's groups allege that the government has diluted the law against sexual crime by not accepting Justice JS Verma's recommendations in totality. Now, political parties have joined the chorus.
Left leader Brinda Karat called it an attempt to "divert attention from the main questions" the Justice JS Verma Committee report had raised. "We do not approve this ordinance. The issue is procedure and also the content. The ordinance has ignored the main recommendations of the Justice JS Verma Committee. The ordinance is an attempt to divert attention from the main questions being raised in Justice JS Verma Committee report," she said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Venkaiah Naidu stated that the government's "purpose" was doubtful. He added, "I am convening a meeting on February 4. We will comment further after it (the ordinance) gets approval from President."
The main criticism of the proposed ordinance is that it rejects Justice Verma Committee's recommendation that under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), sanction should not be needed to prosecute an accused for sexual offence. Government sources say that existing Supreme Court orders have clarified that AFSPA protection is available only for acts done in the line of duty. Sources say that it is implicit in existing laws that sanction is not required to prosecute an armed force personnel charged with sexual offence.
On marital rape, Justice JS Verma panel had recommended that rape within marriage be treated as any other rape and the section for rape of a woman by separated husband be repealed. Sources say the proposed ordinance has rejected this recommendation but enhanced the punishment for rape by a separated husband.
The punishment for rape in proposed ordinance is up to life term but for marital rape it is up to seven years. Women's groups are asking why should rape by a separated husband be treated differently from rape outside marriage. It is this question that the proposed ordinance fails to answer.