The Indian Parliament has passed the much awaited anti-rape law to tackle the rising incidents of sexual violence against women. The bill was approved unanimously.
"The question is that the bill as amended be passed. Those in favor may say AYE. Those Against may say NO. I think the Ayes have it, the Ayes have it. The motion is adopted and the Bill as amended is passed.”
The legislation comes in response to the huge public outcry over the last year's gang-rape of a woman in New Delhi. It makes stalking and voyeurism a crime for the first time.
And the punishment for rape is 20 years up to life in prison. It also allows for the death penalty to be handed out in extreme cases.
The new law also forces police to open a criminal case every time an assault is reported.
“I’m delighted that both houses of Parliament have given their approval to the historic Criminal Law Amendment Bill who will go a long way to secure the dignity and protection of our women,” says Law Minister Ashwini Kumar.
“This was the response of a sensitive and responsive government to the national outrage.”
But women activists who have been campaigning for the issue are not as excited.
Women’s rights activist Farah Naqvi believes the law should be stronger.
“What we wanted is a lot of what is contained in the Justice Verma committee report. We all deposed before the Justice Verma Committee. It was a landmark. It carried within its soul the hard work of women’s movement for decades and it brought them to the scent restage.”
"So we need to applaud that and we need to hold that report as a benchmark in our struggle going forward and so naturally there is disappointment.”
The heated debate in the Parliament brought out sharp gender divide in the Parliament where the predominantly male lawmakers voted against some provisions to dilute the bill.
Some MPs strongly opposed the proposal of making stalking a non-bailable offence. One of them is Sharad Yadav is President of the Janata Dal United party.
“We are human beings and we have this in our nature. You want to make following women a crime; tell me who among us has not done that? And we all know it is not easy to woo a woman. They don’t accept your proposal so easily; you have to try hard, run around them and make them realize that we really love them. This happens throughout the country and all of us have such experiences.”
Women members responded by saying that this is reducing the importance of crimes against women.
“I stand here as a woman, a mother and a proud daughter,” Supriya Sule from the Nationalist Congress Party in the Parliament started.
“Very few men have really flagged the issue that here we are not discussing men’s rights. We are talking about the security of woman which happens to be one of their wives, daughters and mothers.”
The legislation draws hugely on the recommendations of the government’s panel set up following public outcry over last year’s Delhi gang-rape. But it ignores some of the key proposal, including criminalizing marital rape.
Gopal Subramaniam is one of the members of the Justice Verma Committee.
“Can you imagine that in Nepal the Supreme Court has struck down immunity in respect of marital rape. In Swaziland you don’t have immunity in respect of marital rape. You don’t have immunity in South Africa and all the Latin American countries. Are you to believe that India is still so regressive? That we cannot actually move from the discourse of honor to that of what is called the integrity of women’s rights?”
And this issue has even divided the protesters. Ruchi Luthra says the society is not yet ready for the decision.
“If marital rape is considered a rape legally today I think 99 percent Indian men will fit in the definition of the rapist and we will effectively have to lock up or send to the gallows the entire nation. Indian men never seek permission for sex from their wives they think it’s their right to do anything anytime. It has become their habit. We can’t change it overnight.”
But protesters like Duranbasu Malik see it as the main source of violence against women.
“All the people who draft these legislations come from the same background; they have the same patriarchal mindset and they do not understand the violence comes from home and marital rape is something that happens with almost every woman in India. We do not want to reconciliate families if a woman feels that she is not happy with the husband or the family then she has to come out of it.”