The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was passed by the Lok Sabha Tuesday.
The widely-debated bill seeks to provide enhanced punishment for crimes such as rape and gang-rape, prescribing punishment extending to death sentence for offenders for inflicting any injury which causes death of the victim or causes them to be in a persistent vegetative state.
Replying to the debate on the bill in the upper house, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the gang-rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old in Delhi shook the conscience of the whole nation, and there was a demand for a stronger law against rape.
He said changes in the existing laws were necessary for dignity of women and to increase their sense of security.
Describing the bill as tough and rigid, Shinde said the legislation will have its effect in the coming years.
Stressing that the bill was not against men, he said men also wanted the bill to be passed for the protection of their mothers and sisters.
The minister said the bill provides for action against police officials not registering complaint of victims, while sections dealing with the position of dominance imply political dominance too.
He noted that the ordinance promulgated last month kept the age of consent at 18 and this was retained in the bill. The age of consent was 16 under the Indian Penal Code till it was changed in the ordinance.
While introducing the bill, Shinde remembered the Delhi gang-rape victim.
"The brave heart who fought for her dignity, we can at least honour her by passing this bill soon," he said.
Debating the bill, members across the political spectrum expressed concern over security of women. The debate in Rajya Sabha was shorter compared to the Lok Sabha but saw participation of several women members.
Communist Party of India-Marxist's T.N. Seema suggested that age of consent for sex should be kept at 16. "Age of consent should be 16 years... a safeguard can be put that the boy should not be more than five years older than the girl," she said.
She also demanded that rape of a Dalit or tribal woman by a non-Dalit or non-tribal man should be considered an aggravated crime.
DMK's Vasanthi Stanley suggested inclusion of transgenders in the bill, while Rashtriya Janata Dal member Ram Kripal Yadav demanded removing provisions against stalking.
Maya Singh of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said anyone above 16 years of age should be punished if found guilty in a rape case.
"If anyone is above 16, and rapes a woman and murders, he should be given the death sentence," she said.
One of the accused in the Dec 16 Delhi gang-rape is a juvenile, whose case is being heard by the juvenile justice board.
Her party colleague M. Venkaiah Naidu said the government should add more women to police force and suggested adding moral science as subject in school curriculum.
Prabha Thakur of Congress said that more women will be file cases if they see justice being done. "If punishment is given, the criminals would also feel afraid," she said.
"Presently women do not feel free to register cases of rape or molestation because they fear that they will be maligned and would not get justice," she said.
The bill incorporates suggestions of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee formed to make the anti-rape laws stronger. It seeks to punish repeat offenders of rape with imprisonment of life (which will be the remainder of the person's natural life), or with death.
It provides for rigorous imprisonment for a minimum of 20 years extendable to life imprisonment to those convicted for the offence of gang rape, and also defines and prescribes punishment for stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment.
The anti-rape bill will replace the ordinance promulgated last month. The legislation had to be passed by parliament before April 4, when it would have lapsed.
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