Activists call CLA bill historic but slam tenor of its parliamentary debate

Anti rape protest India

Opinions expressed by many of the members of parliament during the debate have exposed their misogynistic attitudes towards women

By Team FI

Women’s rights activists in India, in a press release issued yesterday, have termed the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 in Parliament as “historic” and a step forward in the journey for justice for women. Activists, however, stated that the process of its passage in the parliament shows that the degrading attitudes to women persist at the highest levels of legislative decision-making. “With notable and welcome exceptions, the general tenor of debates in Lok Sabha on this Bill has deeply troubled us, as women and as citizens. The nation watched with shame many of our honorable Members of Parliament freely express sentiments that undermined the dignity of all women, unmindful of the gravity of issues of rape and violence,” stated the press release.

Activists felt that the tenor of the parliamentary debates regarding the bill, introduced after the nation witnessed massive protests following the rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi last year, dishonored not only the young woman’s memory but also the public outrage and protests led by the youth of the country.

The activists have acknowledged that there are significant gains for women in the CLA Bill 2013 wrested by the vigorous campaign sustained by women’s rights groups, lawyers and activists from across the country. These include:
• Denting of impunity enjoyed by police and public servants – Section 166A of the CLA Bill fixes a minimum mandatory sentence for dereliction of duty. No prior sanction under 197 (1) CrPC will be required for public servants charged under this Section.

• Expanded definition of rape beyond peno-vaginal penetration.

• Definition of consent and a crucial proviso to Section 375 (Provided that a woman who does not physically resist to the act of penetration shall not be reason only of that fact be regarded as consenting to the sexual activity).

• Inclusion of crimes like forced disrobing, acid attacks and stalking that destroy women’s lives, and can lead to their rape and brutal murders.

• Free, immediate treatment to victims of acid attack and sexual violence to be given by all Health service providers, with penalties for refusal.

However, several of disappointing provisions were also pointed with the demand that the parliament revisit them.
• Widening of the age net for statutory rape to 18 years, when it has stood at 16 years for 3 decades. This it is feared could criminalize young boys, tainting them as rapists for life. Instead, provisions should be made for discussion and education on issues of sexual contact.

• Rape within marriage finds no acknowledgement in the Bill.

• Systemic sexual violence against Dalit and tribal women is not acknowledged as aggravated rape.

• The incomprehensible fact the Bill which clarifies that no sanction for prosecution under 197 (1) CrPC is required for public servants charged with sexual offences, does not have a similar clarification regarding 197 (2) CrPC covering armed forces which has been excluded.

• The Bill defines the victim as ‘woman’. The Parliament needs to recognize the reality and vulnerability of transgenders and men to sexual abuse by other men, and amend the definition of victim to make it ‘person’.

Activists have also demanded that the “Government to take the next step towards comprehensive reforms outlined in the Justice Verma Committee report, and amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the Representation of People Act, 1951 to erase immunity and instill accountability across all institutions.”

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