Rape laws: Before knee-jerk responses, all dragged feet

Semi Column

While the UPA government has announced a three-member panel to look into possible changes in sexual assault laws, one question that needs to be asked is why successive governments have ignored all recommendations by various ministries and panels, including the Law Ministry and Law Commission of India, in the matter.

Last week, in a knee-jerk reaction to the anger over the brutal gangrape in a moving bus in the Capital, the Delhi government announced setting up of five fast-track courts to deal with rape cases. Knee-jerk because a recommendation to set up special courts to deal with sexual offences, including rape, was made by the Law Commission of India on March 25, 2000. Thereafter, the Law Commission in 2003 drafted the Sexual Offences (Special Courts) Bill, 2003. Nothing has been done as a follow-up to this proposal.

While Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde introduced the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012, in the Lok Sabha on December 4, proposing to amend laws dealing with the offence of rape, the Bill is silent on special courts to deal with sexual offences in a time-bound manner. Most of the clauses in the Bill are pending for legislative action for over 12 years.

Ironically, while MPs are now demanding special session of Parliament to pass stringent rape laws, none of them bothered to push the government to pass these laws during the recent Winter Session — only Akali Dal's Harsimrat Kaur Badal declared her intention to move an amendment to ensure that rapists get death. In fact, the government and Opposition colluded to postpone the introduction in the Rajya Sabha of the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2010, while the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) was not even taken up for discussion.

What we are witnessing is all reactionary rather than affirmative action. With the government indicating it is not averse to accepting demands for death penalty, one only hopes that MPs do their homework and not play to the gallery while passing important legislations. Views of those opposing the death penalty should be given due weightage. NHRC chief Justice (retd) K G Balakrishnan, for example, has pointed out that any such law could result in rapists killing victims to destroy evidence.

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