Indian Panel Pushes New Laws After Deadly Rape

Following the Delhi gang-rape last year, the Indian government set up a judicial panel to review rape laws. The panel reviewed thousands of responses from people all around the world, suggesting ways of making India a better place for women. As Bismil

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Selasa, 12 Mar 2013 14:14 WIB

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Bismillah Geelani

Indian Panel Pushes New Laws After Deadly Rape

Following the Delhi gang-rape last year, the Indian government set up a judicial panel to review rape laws.

The panel reviewed thousands of responses from people all around the world, suggesting ways of making India a better place for women.

At a press conference in New Delhi, the former Indian Chief Justice, JS Verma, acknowledges the overwhelming support his panel received from India and abroad.

The panel’s task was to review the existing rape laws and suggest necessary changes.

They worked together with experts, social activists and interest groups.

“The committee engaged in in-depth global research to gather material for reaching its conclusions and crafting the proposed amendments in legislation. The committee also analyzed past judgments, reviewed the trajectory of public policy and its sensitivity towards gender and enquired into the differences of socio-political contexts in which uniform laws have been implemented. This led us to probe deeper in recognizing multiple patriarchies and striking at a wider culture of misogyny.”
 
The panel completed its work in a record 29 days and submitted a 600-page report to the government.

The report blames the failure of government institutions and agencies for the rising number of cases of violence against women.

It also emphasizes the need for a change in the social mindset and male behaviour.

“Attitudinal changes to correct the aberration of gender bias have to be brought about in the institutions of governance to improve the work culture and in civil society to improve the social norms for realizing the constitutional promise of equality in all spheres for the womenfolk. The workmen must improve the work culture instead of quarrelling with the tools. In the committees view without the improvement in this aspect mere additions in the statue book are of no avail. “
 
The panel has broadened the definition of sexual assault and recommends the inclusion of marital rape, disrobing, stalking, sexual harassment and voyeurism as punishable offences.

It also recommends that soldiers accused of sexual crimes in conflict zones should not have any legal immunity and must be tried in a civil court.

The panel calls for the immediate review of draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that give soldiers arbitrary powers while operating in areas of disturbance.
 
Gopal Subramaniam is a member of the panel.
 
“We are talking about erring individuals who are being accused of rape. There is no reason why they should not be tried according to the normal law. We had heart rending testimonies before us from people from Kashmir, people from Chhattisgarh, Orissa and the northeast so we decided that the immunity must go. We must also understand that as a result of the continuous presence of army, people of these areas are totally alienated. I think it is important for us to review the application of these laws.”
 
The panel highlights the need for police reforms and political and judicial accountability.

It suggests barring politicians who are charged with sexual offences from contesting elections.

It also recommends the creation of a constitutional authority that would safeguard women and children against discrimination.
 
But contrary to popular demand, the panel has said no to the death penalty for rape.

Gopal Subramaniam says the maximum punishment for a rapist is life imprisonment.

“In the beginning, we thought that death could be one of the penalties. But as we went on discussing, interacting and evolving with various kinds of sociologists as well as thinkers on the subject, we decided that we must actually go somewhere between the range of present punishment and death because death is irrevocable. But more importantly what also weighed with us was the predominant position taken by all the women that their claim was not for the purpose of an eye for eye or a tooth for a tooth... But they wanted fundamental structural issues of access of justice to be addressed. Incidentally all the women’s organizations wanted life as is understood in the present sense which means after remissions only 14 years. But we as a Committee felt that there was actually an impetus to increase the punishment because of the fact that these horrific incidents are happening somewhat on a repeated basis. So we had to have some principal of deterrence as well. But as far as death is concerned that is an extreme position.”
 
Human Rights groups have also hailed the report as an all encompassing progressive document that has the potential to bring about real social change.

Vrinda Grover is a human rights lawyer.
 
“I think there’s a paradigm shift we can see in understanding and legislating for laws relating to women particularly laws relating to violence against women. It has been rooted in the constitution, there’s a bill of rights. It has been rooted in a context of inequality and discrimination and there’s a shift in looking at violence against women and comprehending it and seeing it from the perspective of women and the language, bodily integrity, dignity and chucking out of words like modesty etc. has begun, also looking at  women in different scenarios, in conflict zones, under disturbed areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in operation. And very crucially acknowledging that if this is a question of bodily integrity of women then there can be no space for things like marital rape and that is the step forward that we are taking. Now of course the challenge is whether the Parliament is up to this modern thinking.”
 
The report is likely to be tabled in parliament for discussion in the next Budget Session.

The government says it will try to build a consensus and push through as many recommendations as possible.

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