In its bid to make the country safer for women in the wake of the Delhi gang-rape case, the Union Cabinet on Friday approved an ordinance amending the existing criminal laws. Backed by public outcry to hang the gang-rape accused, the Cabinet also approved death penalty in the rarest of rare rape cases that result in death or persistent vegetative state, sources said. The ordinance will make existing laws more stringent for checking crimes against women by including acid attack, trafficking, sexual harassment at work places and stalking, under the sexual assault law, though it omitted marital rape.
According to sources, President Pranab Mukherjee will soon sign the ordinance, which will reflect the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma committee report.
“The ordinance approved by the Cabinet replaced the word ‘rape’ by the technical term ‘sexual assault’ and included stalking, acid attacks and use of criminal force under relevant sections of the law. The Cabinet discussed the Justice Verma Committee report before approving the amendments. The ordinance will entail the changes to be enacted in the existing criminal laws by amending Indian Penal Code, Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure,” sources said.
Despite public outcry and major political parties like Congress and BJP favouring the noose for rapists, the committee did not recommend the death penalty, arguing that women’s rights groups were against it.
While clearing the amendments, the Cabinet agreed with the suggestions of the committee on a penalty of 20 years in rape cases and life imprisonment, which shall mean the rest of the person’s natural life, in gang-rapes or rapes that resulted in grievous injuries.
Acid attacks — termed the most heinous form of attack on women by the Justice Verma committee — will be punishable with a jail term of up to life.
The committee had also suggested that convicts in such cases should be liable to pay compensation to the victim, enough to meet at least the medical expenses.
The loosely-drafted “outraging a woman’s modesty by force” penal provision has been strengthened with imprisonment from two to five years. In cases of indecent gesture, the punishment has been enhanced from one to three years in jail.