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Union Cabinet Approves Introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment ) Bill, 2012 in the Parliament With Provision Of Stringent Punishment For Rape

The Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report on `Review of Rape Laws` as well the National Commission for Women have recommended for stringent punishment for the offence of rape.

Taking this into consideration, government had constituted a high powered committee headed by Union Home Secretary, which  examined the recommendations of Law Commission, NCW and suggestions various quarters on the subject submitted its Report along with the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2011 and recommended to the Government for its enactment.

Today (July 20, 2012), union cabinet approved the bill for introducing it in the Parliament, which if passed would become a law.

This new bill makes rape gender neutral. Instead of the word ‘rape’, a more encompassing phrase ‘sexual assault’ is substituted which includes sexual offence on both men and women.

This ‘gender neutral’ clause has been facing opposition from feminists,  according to whom in India it is women who are predominantly the victims of rape and making it gender neutral will not make this law a deterrent for would be offenders.

It is true that more and more crimes are committed against women with each passing year.

According to to the Union ministry of home affairs’ compendium on crime statistics, compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the incidence of crime against women in India has shot up both numerically and as a proportion of total number of Indian Penal Code (IPC) crimes.

While the number of such crimes shot up to 2,28,650 in 2011 from 2,13,585 in 2010, marking a seven per cent spurt, West Bengal reported the highest number of such cases. (CNN-IBN)

Making it gender neutral enables the act to empower law enforcing agencies to register cases of sexual assault on men too, may be by women (!?), or by men – especially on boys. (boys and girls who are below 16 years of age are one of the worst victims of sexual assault in India – according to many studies it has come to light that people within family, or a known person is the common offender)

Highlights of the Bill

The highlights of the Bill include substituting sections 375, 376, 376A and 376B by replacing the existing sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C and 376D of the Indian Penal Code,1860, replacing the word `rape’ wherever it occurs by the words `sexual assault`, to make the offence of sexual assault gender neutral, and also widening the scope of the offence sexual assault.

The punishment for sexual assault will be for a minimum of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life and also fine for aggravated sexual assault, i.e., by a police officer within his jurisdiction or a public servant / manager or person talking advantage of his position of authority etc. The punishment will be rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than ten years which may extend to life imprisonment and also fine.

The age of consent has been raised from 16 years to 18 years in sexual assault. However, it is proposed that the sexual intercourse by a man with own wife being under sixteen years of age is not sexual assault.

Provision for enhancement of punishment under sections 354 and 509 of IPC and insertion of sections 326A and 326B in the IPC for making acid attack a specific offence have been made.

More than laws, it is action which is needed. Some police stations refuse to even register FIR, some show lack of interest, some buckle under pressure from influential people derailing the case, some cops even indulge themselves in ‘sexual assaults’, there are officers who blame girls for ‘inviting’ rape, and if not highlighted by media, many rape cases go even unnoticed and unregistered.

Police should be taught during their training to be sensitive and imbibe empathy. It is not tough laws which reduce crimes, but cultivation of civilized attitude by everybody.