The popular demand for the death penalty in extreme cases of sexual assault might soon be a reality if the ordinance on sexual crimes against women becomes a law.
Not waiting for Parliament to clear new tough anti-rape laws, the government on Friday night issued the ordinance that goes beyond the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma committee.
Changing the law to punish sexual offenders has been a subject of national debate ever since a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped in a moving bus in Delhi on the night of December 16.
The ordinance will come into effect as soon as president Pranab Mukherjee signs it, possibly on Sunday. The ordinance has to be passed in Parliament within six months for it to become a law. The budget session starts from February 21.
It incorporates many suggestions of the committee, which was formed in the wake of the widespread protests across the country following the Delhi gang rape.
The amendments include changing the definition of ‘rape’ to ‘sexual assault’ and increasing the punishment from seven years to life imprisonment — that is till the time of a convict’s natural death.
Though the committee did not suggest death penalty, the ordinance talks of it in extreme cases of sexual assault that leads to death or leaves a victim in “persistent vegetative state”.
Also, it has no mention of marital rape though the committee had suggested it to be considered as a crime. Acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism, and trafficking have, however, been brought within the ambit of sexual assault.
A special meeting of the Union cabinet was convened at prime minister Manmohan Singh’s residence on Friday night to deliberate on the suggestions of the Justice Verma committee.
Law minister Ashwani Kumar, who took the ordinance to the cabinet, said: “We have diligently applied our mind to various recommendations of the Verma committee and the Criminal Amendment Bill.” He said the UPA government had “responded to sensitivities of people” by acting fast.
“We believe that this is a progressive piece of legislation and is consistent with felt sensitivities of the nation in the aftermath of outrageous gang rape in Delhi,” he said.
Though there has been widespread demand to keep the upper limit of juveniles to 16, the government has decided not to lower it from 18. Of the six accused in the Delhi gang rape, one is a minor by just some months. Which means he will escape the law.