India Makes New Violence Against Women Law – Does it Really Do Anything?

Photo courtesy of AP

Earlier this month, India’s President Mukherjee signed a new criminal law amendment for India’s criminal law on violence against women. However, this new criminal law was not celebrated or applauded; instead, it was passed despite protests from human rights groups and women’s rights groups.  Main arguments against the law are that: it fails to deal with police accountability, it fails to frame “sexual violence as a violation of women’s rights to bodily integrity,” and it fails to “reflect international human rights law and standards” as well as “the views of women’s rights groups in” India.

For instance, one issue is that the ordinance retains immunity for police and armed force members who are accused of sexual violence, and the age of consent has been raised from 16 to 18, which has been seen as harming rather than helping teenagers. The Verma Committee has said police immunity should be abolished, and “The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, enacted in 2012,” has said that the age of consent should be 16.

Similarly, the ordinance perpetuates “archaic and discriminatory concepts” by defining the criminal offenses as “‘insults’ or ‘outrages’ to women’s ‘modesty’” instead of defining the crimes as being against a women’s right to bodily integrity. For instance, the ordinance does not adequately distinguish between sexual offenses that include penetration versus sexual offenses that do not include penetration. For example: “the act of touching another person’s breast is given the same punishment as penetrative sexual offences.” The ordinance also discriminates against married women by including that “wives cannot bring a charge of “sexual assault” against husbands except under extremely narrow grounds: where they are “living separately under a decree of separation or under any custom or usage.”

The new law also permits “the death penalty for sexual assault when it results in death or “persistent vegetative state” for the victim and in cases of certain repeat offenders.” While Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are against this provision because of their position on the death penalty in general (it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life), the provision is also being protested because instead of focusing on punishment, legislators should ensure that the law substantially reforms the system by which sexual violence is reported, investigated and prosecuted.”

Last, the new law fails to repeal the applicable penal code section that criminalizes same-sex relations between adults, even though the Delhi High Court in 2009 held that this type of criminalization is unconstitutional.

Do you think this new law will appropriately deal with sexual violence in India? Will this new law be taken seriously given that the police are immune? Since it has been held that the criminalization of same sex relations is unconstitutional, does that penal code section need to be repealed? Are there other reasons why it should it be if that is the case?

Source: Ekklesia

2 comments

  1. In reading the statistics on the laws that are already on the books in India, this new legislation doesn’t seem to deal with the key issues regarding government enforcement, and certainly adds to the problems facing women and teenagers who are victims of sexual violence. First, most of the laws in place now aren’t adequately enforced, and many of the accusations aren’t believed by law enforcement or medical officials. Second, the amnesty given to police officers and armed forces members is an absolute disgrace. No one should be immune from punishment, especially in a region where almost half of the women in India claim crimes of sexual violence and they aren’t believed by these officers. I agree with the human rights and women’s groups that this new legislation completely lacks any accountability for some who could be accused. Finally, the fact that the penal code wasn’t addressed and repealed in this legislation again adds to the dysfunctional nature of the entire system. It’s clear that in comparison to U.S. law on this point, India’s penal code is behind the times. Hopefully the international pressure from human rights groups can help end these atrocities in India.

  2. Women in several Indian cities spent their Valentine’s Day rallying and dancing together in the streets, demanding answers concerning their safety. As part of the One Billion Rising campaign, they joined one another shouting “break the bangles” and “freedom to dance madly.” The campaign was partially meant to remember a gang rape victim from New Delhi. The rallied support was also meant as a statement, a denouncement of violence against women. Commentators point out that the vibe has very much changed, that women are finally expressing their fury during the post-gang rape protests. As one feminine activist stated, “One Billion Rising in India gets its energy and special edge from the events of the past two months here.”
    It seems that the amendment may have been in response to the gang rape as well. Given the ongoing protests, I would say that most women in India are dissatisfied with the amendment and will continue demanding more in terms of their safety. The amendment, I would agree with Alison, appears to make matters worse for women in India. In my opinion, India’s President Mukherjee has only fueled the fire.

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