India took a step forward on Tuesday by passing the much-awaited criminal law amendment bill, providing stringent punishment for crimes against women, in the Lok Sabha. However, it was clear from what was said in Parliament that it will take much more than a law to change Indian mindsets and attitudes towards women.
The list of comments by our parliamentarians before the bill was voted upon ranged from those in bad taste to the bizarre. Sharad Yadav of the JD(U) was of the opinion that stalking women is what comes naturally to Indian men. “Everyone has stalked women at some point in their lives.... Stalking is a norm in the country,” he said.
Not to be outdone, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav said the bill aimed to criminalise ordinary Indian men. “The bill is not against the average Road Romeo, it is against the habitual ghume wala... The Sun Temple in Konark is full of sculptures of naked women and men. Khajuraho is full of such images. What will you do about them? Cover them up all?”
The old bogey of Western culture found a mention too. “People made fun of us when we opposed Valentine’s Day. But now, everyone agrees Westernisation of our culture is to blame for the rising number of rapes,” said the Shiv Sena’s Anand Gangaram Geete.
Even women MPs like the BJP’s Sumitra Mahajan and Saroj Pandey blamed Western culture, TV programmes, films and advertisements depicting skimpily-dressed women for increasing rape incidents.
Ironically, what was said in Parliament was not completely representative because there was just 36 per cent attendance. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and many senior ministers were missing during voting.
The bill has sought to widen the definition of rape, broaden the ambit of aggravated rape and enhance the punishment for such crimes. The age of consent remains 18 years. For the first time, acid attack has been defined as a crime and stalking and voyeurism are defined as non-bailable offences if repeated a second time.
1. Punishment extending to death for offenders who inflict injuries that lead to the death of the victim or causes her to be in a persistent vegetative state.
2. Life imprisonment for the remainder of the person’s natural life or death for repeat offenders of rape.
3. 20 years jail term extendable to life imprisonment for those convicted for gang rape
4Minimum one year imprisonment for hospital staff who do not immediate provide first aid and/or medical treatment free of cost to the victims of acid attack or rape.
Winding up a five hour debate, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said: “Time has come to send out a loud, clear and deterrent signal that the society will not tolerate such errant behaviour.” The bill may go to the Rajya Sabha today.