Delay is good

The anti-rape bill was not cleared by the Union cabinet on Tuesday, and will be taken up by a group of ministers first. An all-party meeting has also been called on March 18 to discuss the proposed law. The delay on this crucial legislation is welcome and, in fact, much-needed. It will hopefully provide some space for a wider discussion on, and scrutiny of, its provisions. Under cover of the justified outrage sparked by the horrific gangrape in Delhi in December, attempts have been made by activists to mount pressure to cramp and compress the law-making process, to short-circuit due process and rigour, and to rush through a law, regardless of its long-term consequences. For succumbing to the pressure, and in fact for laying the ground for it, the government must bear the responsibility.

The government was not only caught unawares by the extent of the agitation touched off by the crime in Delhi, it has also been flailing about weakly for a coherent response ever since. The setting up of a committee under Justice Verma, governed by an entirely unrealistic time-frame, amounted to outsourcing under pressure. Then, an ordinance was rushed through, with no greater purpose than to stanch criticism of governmental inaction. And now the bill is sought to be pushed in the same manner, with minimal consideration, to the sound of the ticking clock — it must be put in place before the ordinance lapses. These are not the actions of a government sensitive to women. They speak, instead, of a government that only wants to be seen to be so, without doing the hard labour that would guard against an imperfect law that doesn't serve its intended beneficiaries and is easily hijacked by those who would misuse it. The tableau currently being enacted around the anti-rape law bears a strong resemblance to the drama featuring the Lokpal bill. Then, too, the government allowed itself to be cornered into putting together a bill that was a meagre and ill-thought-out response to the problem, in that case corruption, because of pressure mounted by an increasingly impatient and intemperate mobilisation — which later petered out.

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