Anti-rape bill to be tabled in Lok Sabha today

The anti-rape bill or Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 which provides for stringent punishment for crimes against women, including rape will be tabled in Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Barely three days after the Centre decided to fix the age of consent for sex at 16 years, main opposition parties and even the UPA’s outside supporters on Monday forced the government to raise it to 18 years and also dilute other provisions of the anti-rape bill to check its misuse.

Now that the government has bought peace with the opposition and got the latest set of amendments cleared by the cabinet, decks have been cleared for the passage of the bill by Friday. After two rounds of meetings with opposition parties in a span of three hours to iron out differences, a visibly satisfied parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said, “The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill will be introduced in Lok Sabha on Tuesday.”

Under pressure from its key outside supporter Samajwadi Party, the government also diluted the definition of new offences such as stalking and voyeurism in the Indian Penal Code. According to the latest changes, these would be bailable offences for first-time offenders.

The Criminal Laws Ordinance, which made anti-rape laws more stringent, was promulgated by the President on February 3 in the wake of the public outrage over the December 16 Delhi gang rape. The Ordinance lapses on April 4.

Following strong objections by women groups, the government had made key changes in its anti-rape ordinance by restoring the term rape in place of sexual assault and had made it gender-specific crime. It had also brushed aside strong objections from the women and child development ministry to reduce the age of consent for sex to 16 years in the proposed bill.

At the all-party meeting on Monday, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay argued that state governments should have been consulted before amending the law. SP leader Ramgopal Yadav warned that an aggressive law may become a deterrent to women’s employment opportunities and people will be scared even to employ them as domestic helps.