Indian Parliament Addresses Sexual Violence with Strict Legislation

The Indian Parliament Thursday passed a law to protect women against sexual violence in response to the fatal December gang rape and beating of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi reports the Associated Press. The recent rape and robbery of a Swiss couple in Madhya Pradesh less than a week after the law’s passage has also sparked controversy over the safety of Indian women and for that matter any women who travels outside India’s tourist hot spots. The law once signed by the president and becomes official will make stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment a crime as well as provide for the death penalty for repeat offenders or for rape attacks that cause fatal injuries to the victim. It will also be a crime for police officers who refuse to open cases for sexual attack complaints. Activist see the law as a milestone in women’s rights even though many are concerned about how effectively the law will be enforced considering the country’s poor record of law enforcement. As Vrinda Grover, a senior lawyer and women’s rights activist explains, “It’s a significant moment. We have taken many steps forward. Much, much more needs to be done.” The bill passed the upper house Thursday two day after the lower house approved it. The reason the law passed so quickly is in response to the Dec. 16 gang rape fatality which sparked nationwide protest calling for the government to take action to protect women. The government set up a panel to recommend changes to Indian laws governing crimes against women and the Cabinet then passed an ordinance adding int he suggestion from the panel, bu it was up to Parliament to pass a law by the next moth before the ordinance expire leading many lawmakers complaining about the law being rushed through without discussion or debate. Many see the bill as the most stringent effort to curb violence against women in India ever, while others see it as only a stepping stone as many problems still remain such as the government’s refusal to see marital rape as a crime. Ranjana Kumari, a women’s activist and director of the Center for Social Research, explained, “If bodily integrity is the issue, and consent is the issue, than certainly rape in marriage should be included.” She also takes issue with the 10 year maximum sentence for acid attacks too light and the government’s decision to make 18 the age of consent is out of touch with the sexual mores. As the Associated Press reports, Kumari does see it as a step in the right diretion but fears an insensitive police force and overburdened judiciar could make it diffuclt to enforce stating, “The implementation remains the larger challenge.”

 

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