Representatives of women’s organisations, civil society groups and activists have strongly opposed the government’s decision to promulgate an ordinance on the criminal law amendments relating to sexual violence and called upon the President not to sign the ordinance.
They said in a statement in Delhi on Saturday that they were alarmed by the complete lack of transparency by the government in proposing an ordinance as an emergency measure. They said they did not understand what objective and purpose such a non-transparent measure, which is being brought out less than 3 weeks before the parliamentary session, would serve especially since the proposed law will not be with retrospective effect and not apply to the Delhi gang-rape case.
They said they wanted transparency and due process in law-making. “Parliamentary process, including the Standing Committee process, should be upheld, for this is the place where we, as citizens of this country, have the right to be heard,” they said.
“An ordinance like this, implemented in stealth, only serves to weaken our democracy” noted Vrinda Grover, Delhi-based human rights lawyer. “After years of struggle to bring recognition to the gravity of sexual violence against women, and the use of sexual assault as part of targeted violence against Dalit, Adivasi and minority women, we find that this hasty and ill-conceived move negates the spirit of struggles of countless women and women’s groups to end violence and impunity,” said Kalpana Kannabiran, spokesperson for Asmita Collective and director of Council for Social Development, Hyderabad.
They said they were shocked to learn that the JVC report had not been considered fully or even partially, neither in letter nor in spirit while drafting the 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,” said Kavita Krishnan, Farah Naqvi and Sunita Dhar.
Furthe, the ordinance has provisions that were strongly rejected by 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 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,” said Madhu Mehra.
“We call upon the government to implement the committee’s report and to broaden its scope to include serious sexual assault against women of marginalised communities. We assert that there should be no implementation that sidesteps due process or arbitrarily selects parts of the committee’s recommendations, as this will only serve to undermine the very basis of the constitution of the Verma Committee. The government will be seen acting if it follows a transparent process, not if it defeats it,” they said.