Women groups on Saturday urged President Pranab Mukherjee not to sign the ordinance of Criminal Law amendments passed by the Cabinet. Human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover said, “The ordinance is complete betrayal of the people’s faith.”
She also questioned as to why the ordinance remained silent on Armed s Special Powers Act. “Justice Verma Committee targeted the impunity of family, policemen, Army officers, and a bureaucrats. But the government went soft on that. Why are the recommendations on AFSPA not accepted. It’s completely scandalous what the government has done.”
She also said that women organisations were alarmed to see the ordinance as it ignored many recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee. “We are alarmed by the ordinance content. We do not see any recommendation of the Verma Committee in the ordinance,” Vrinda Grover said. “The ordinance is a trick to sideline Justice Verma report,” she added.
The opposition BJP and Left too have joined the activists in saying the ordinance is not tough enough. While the government claims it has accepted most of recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee on punishing sex offenders, it has not included proposals like changing rules for the armed forces under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The ordinance has also left out recognition of marital rape as a crime.
“We’ve accepted almost all the recommendations. The Central Government is committed to giving stringent punishment to the culprits. We’ve included acid attacks and stalking in the definition of sexual crimes against women. We feel that this will send out a strong message,” Union Minister Krishna Tirath told.
CPM leader Brinda Karat said the government has ignored the main recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee. “We do not approve of this ordinance. The ordinance has ignored the main recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee. The ordinance is an attempt to divert attention from the main questions being raised in the Justice Verma Committee report,” Karat said. Women groups have also called the ordinance a dilution of the Verma panel recommendations.
Meanwhile, former IPS officer and activist Kiran Bedi welcomed the passing of this ordinance calling it the beginning of a long journey. “I think the people demand a holistic response, it is a very part law response. Very well, it’s a beginning made, but it’s still a long way to go, as the Justice Verma recommendations are a holistic correction,” Bedi said.
Just days after the Justice Verma Committee made its recommendations to amend laws relating to sexual assault, the Cabinet has passed an ordinance. The punishment for rape could range from 20 years to even death in extreme cases. “The UPA government has responded to the sensitivities of the people,” Law Minister Ashwini Kumar said. The Cabinet met at a short notice to approve the ordinance just to prove this point.
It has faced criticism on inability to feel the pulse of the people in the street protests and also Justice JS Verma. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi were keen on a damage control.
The ordinance accepts most of the suggestions of Justice Verma Committee report. According to the ordinance, the punishment for rape can go up to 20 years in jail. A death sentence can also be given in extreme cases, which includes permanent body damage to a woman. The word ‘rape’ will now be called ‘sexual assault’. Sexual crime means unfavourable portrayal of women, stalking, women trafficking and acid attacks.
But the ordinance remains silent on marital rape. It also remains silent on another recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee, that is, changes in AFSPA. The Cabinet has also not accepted that politicians who face charges of sexual abuse should be debarred. The Cabinet is waiting for a consensus on this. The government now hopes to make more changes once the ordinance is referred to Parliament for approval.