- Special Pages
New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee yesterday gave his approval to an ordinance that awards stricter punishment for sexual crimes against women, including death sentence in rare instances. Women’s groups are, however, planning a protest against the ordinance, which they term
as a “big joke”.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, was passed by the cabinet on Friday. It is based largely on former Supreme Court Chief Justice J S Verma’s 631-page report.
Women’s rights activists have slammed the ordinance as a mockery of the Verma Committee recommendations and lashed out at the government for quietly passing the ordinance without a debate or discussion.
On Saturday, they urged the president not to sign the ordinance, saying it lacks teeth to fight sexual crimes against women.
With the presidential assent, the ordinance comes into effect immediately. It has to be passed by parliament within six months.
The government on Saturday said the ordinance would be open to review when it is brought before parliament.
Women’s groups said they would stage a protest here today against the ordinance.
The Verma panel was set up by the government last month to review laws to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault.
This followed the countrywide outrage over the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman on December 16. The victim died in a Singapore hospital 13 days later.
The panel submitted its voluminous report to the government
Activist Kavita Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association said the president “could have listened to the pleas of women’s groups” and not signed the ordinance.
She wondered why the government was “in such a hurry to issue the ordinance”.
“An ordinance is issued in a state of emergency. Where was the emergency? They basically wanted to sideline the recommendations of the Justice Verma panel,” Krishnan
“Every single recommendation has been rejected,” she added.
According to provisions of the ordinance, it has kept the perpetrator of rape as gender neutral, which is not what the women’s groups and the panel had recommended,
The ordinance has also criminalised consensual sexual relations of those between 16-18 years, unless they are married. “This gives legal backing to moral policing... it is appalling and will interfere in relations between a boy and girl in inter-caste and inter-religious cases,”
The ordinance also exempts marital rape. “The woman loses the right to say yes or no,” said Krishnan.
“It also leaves out automatic prosecution of judges, magistrates and army officers in cases of sexual crimes.
“There will be no automatic prosecution — one will have to seek sanction for it. It is not just about the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), the judge, magistrate and army officer retain impunity under the ordinance,” she said.
Krishnan termed the Verma panel recommendations as “path-breaking”.
She was also critical of the provision for death penalty in rarest of rare cases, saying “with the clause why will the perpetrator leave the victim alive to testify against him?”
Lawyer Rebecca John termed the ordinance a “bit of a joke”.
“I don’t understand why the government was in a tearing hurry to bring this ordinance.
“These are historic moments and opinions of people have to be considered. Moreover, they (government) have instituted the Verma committee and should have deliberated upon its recommendations,” John said.