Braving almost 50 amendments moved by opposition and allies, Lok Sabha finally passed the much awaited criminal law amendment bill, providing stringent punishment for crimes against women. The bill has sought to widen the definition of rape, broaden the ambit of aggravated rape and enhance the punishment for such crimes.
With the DMK’s pull out taking much of political limelight, the introduction of bill was lukewarm. Most of the time during debate, house was empty and when voting was taking place, Congress president Sonia Gandhi , her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and many senior ministers were missing. Ironically just 196 MPs were present in
the house during the debate and voting.
Winding up a five hour debate, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the law was aimed to act as deterrent. He tried to allay fears expressed by several MPs that various provisions were prone to misuse. He also moved an amendment to drop a clause that had fixed the age of consent for sex at 16 years. It shall now remain at 18 years, as in
the Ordinance promulgated on February 3, which will expire on April 4.
"Time has come to send out a loud, clear and deterrent signal that the society will not tolerate such errant behaviour," he said, underlining that the bill was being brought to plug loopholes in the law. With an aim of providing a strong deterrent against rapes and gangrapes, the Bill states that an offender can be sentenced to rigourous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 20 years, but which may extend to life, meaning imprisonment for the remainder of that person's natural life and with a fine. It has provisions for handing out death sentence to offenders who may have been convicted
earlier for such crimes. The bill, for the first time, defines stalking and voyeurism as non-bailable offences if repeated for a second time.
Earlier while moving the bill for consideration, Shinde sought the support of all parties, saying "let us honour the braveheart", referring to the 23-year-old victim of ganrape by six persons in the national capital last year. "Time has come to send out a loud, clear and deterrent signal that the society will not tolerate such errant behaviour," he said, underlining that the Bill was being brought to plug loopholes in the law. He said the bill has for the first time, defined acid attack as a crime and also grants a victim the right to
self-defence. It also has provisions for awarding a minimum 10-year jail term for perpetrators of the act. The amendments seek to make specific provisions for punishment for offences of causing grievous hurt by acid attack and also for such an attempt. It also seeks to define and prescribe punishment for the offences of stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment.
During the debate, CPI leader Gurdas Dasgupta and Odhisa BJD’s Pinaki Mishra opposed raising the age of consent to 18 years. They blamed the government for caving in under the pressure of the BJP. But the BJP was joined by SP and others demanding the age of consent for sex be set at 18 and not 16. The Bill also provides that all hospitals shall
immediately provide first aid and/or medical treatment free of cost to the victims of acid attack or rape, and failure to do so will attract punishment.
It also has provisions for a minimum imprisonment of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life and a fine for offender who is a police officer, a public servant, a member of the armed forces or management or the staff of a hospital. The Bill also seeks to amend the Indian Evidence Act to allow a rape victim, if she is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled, to record her statement before a Judicial Magistrate with the assistance of an interpreter or a special educator. It also has provisions to videograph the proceedings.