New Delhi: Differences, multiple opinions and oppositions yet again seemed to have delayed the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. The anti-rape Bill, which promises strong legislation to curb crime against women, seems to be drowned under the Cabinet dithering. The bill was not discussed by the Cabinet on Thursday after some amendments proposed by the home ministry ran into opposition.
CNN-IBN has learnt that the Law Ministry has sent some recommendations and has reservations about replacing the word sexual harassment with rape saying that this limits it to just women-related crimes. Union minister of state for information and broadcasting Manish Tiwari said, "The fact that we came out with an ordinance shows that we are committed to women safety. Why a bill came up and didn't come up, you have to ask the concerned ministries."
While the NCW has welcomed the changed law as more women-centric, the Opposition was quick to demand a re-draft of the anti-rape law to include 'sexual assault' along with 'rape' to keep the law gender-neutral. NCW chairperson Mamata Sharma said, "The use of word sexual assault was one of our recommendations. But now if they want to use 'rape' I think it is because they want to focus on women which is absolutely fine." The government was earlier mulling bringing back the word 'rape' in the Bill.
There are also different opinions cropping up over reducing the age of consensual sex from 18 to 16 which was part of recommendations by the Justice JS Verma committee. Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi said, "Call me a conservative parent but I would like to see the age for consensual sex for girls at 18 to ensure their safety. Though the age for juvenile justice should be lowered to 16 from 18."
Women activists, too, feel that a stronger law is needed to check the soaring sex crime graph. The proposed changes in the anti-rape law received mixed reactions from parents and youngsters. Meenakshi Lekhi said, "We too had asked to bring back the 'rape' instead of 'sexual assault'. This change would only make the law more women specific."
The Law Ministry has also proposed that a victim of rape should not be denied treatment by any nearby private hospital after informing police and the victim should not be made to suffer further by being referred to a government hospital.
The fresh Bill will replace the ordinance on crimes against women promulgated last month. The proposal will replace the provision in the ordinance which has subscribed life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for those in authority committing rape. The person in authority has been described as a police officer, a doctor or a staffer of a hospital, a jailer or a warden of a remand home.
The fresh bill, which will also replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 introduced in the Lok Sabha in December last. The bill retains the provision that if rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state, it can attract death penalty.
The proposed bill is incorporating most of the clauses which are part of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 promulgated on February 3 following the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma Commission, constituted in the wake of December 16 gangrape in Delhi. The shield given to the security personnel involved in crime against women in disturbed areas under the controversial AFSPA continue to remain, sources said. It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent
gestures like words and inappropriate touch.
There always has been opposition to the proposed recommendations over the anti-rape law. There have been many changes propsed by the government in the anti-rape law, since the time the Justice JS Verma committee came out with its suggestions after the Delhi gangrape case.
Marital rape and AFSPA have been kept out of the purview of the proposed amendments to the Bill that could lead to stronger laws even as the Justice Verma panel mentioned both.