Women’s groups slam India’s ordinance on sexual violence

Delhi rape protest

The Justice Verma Commission recommendations hailed as groundbreaking by activists in India not reflected in new ordinance

By Team FI

Representatives of several women’s groups in the country have strongly criticized the new ordinance on criminal law amendments in respect of sexual violence against women. The activists alleged that the ordinance is a political move and has completely bypassed the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee (JVC) report.

The panel which was set up in the wake of the nationwide protests and outrage to the brutal rape of a young woman in December last year had in a public notice called for recommendations from the general public and submitted a 630 page report to the government.

The press release distributed by activists at the press meet in New Delhi on 2nd February stated its alarm at the “complete lack of transparency displayed by the Government in proposing an Ordinance as an emergency measure.” The Ordinance was cleared by the Cabinet on February 1, 2013 – about 20 days before the next parliamentary session. The press release called it a “hasty non-transparent measure” and wondered at what objective and purpose it served since the proposed law will not retrospectively apply to the Delhi gang rape case.

The activists demanded transparency and due process in law making. “We demand that the Parliamentary process, including the Standing Committee process be upheld, for this is the place where we, as citizens of this country, have the right to be heard,” stated the press release.

“An Ordinance like this, implemented by stealth, only serves to weaken our democracy,” notes Vrinda Grover, a human rights lawyer. Emphasizing this concern, Madhu Mehra, a women’s rights lawyer added, “This betrays the trust of scores of Indian men and women, who marched the streets of Delhi and other cities demanding an end to impunity for Sexual Violence.”

Women’s organizations were further shocked to learn that the JVC report was not considered fully or even partially, neither in letter nor in spirit in the content of this Ordinance. “We are told that virtually all the recommendations that we and others had hailed as signs of a paradigm shift in understanding violence against women; all the recommendations that can actually strike at the heart of impunity – have been dropped,” stated activists, Kavita Krishnan, Farah Naqvi and Sunita Dhar.

These included – recognition in law of marital rape, new provisions on the offence of breach of command responsibility, non-requirement of sanction for prosecuting a member of the security forces accused of sexual assault and rape, provision for trying them under ordinary criminal law for sexual crimes; and change in definition of consent to any sexual act.

The activists alleged that the Ordinance has introduced provisions that were strongly rejected by the Justice Verma Committee, including the death penalty. “We are shocked to learn that the Ordinance introduces a gender neutral perpetrator for sexual assault, suggesting that both women and men could potentially be charged for the offence. Rape as we know it is a crime largely defined as male violence against women, with absolutely no evidence of women as perpetrators. This is in disregard of the Justice Verma recommendations too, and is totally unacceptable”, noted Madhu Mehra.

Women’s groups, who have been demanding comprehensive amendments in criminal law related to sexual violence for over two decades, had endorsed the Justice Verma Committee Report. The activists congratulated the Justice Verma Committee for completing the report in record time without compromising on consultations, dialogue, due process and transparency. The groups have made oral and written submissions to the Justice Verma Committee and their voices and concerns were reflected in the Committee’s report. “We again reiterate our call to the Government of India to implement the recommendations of the report comprehensively, in letter and spirit,” noted Vrinda Grover.

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