Millennium Post

A welcome act

A proposed bill on an all-encompassing sexual assault law that has been seven years in the making and was finally passed in the Cabinet last week for Parliament and subsequently presidential approval is to be welcomed.

The highlight of the long-awaited Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, is that under the new law rape have been made a gender neutral act of crime. The proposed ensures that both men and women will be able to invoke its provisions in case they are sexually violated. Under the proposed law, offenders can be jailed for life in cases of sexual assault, irrespective of the victim’s gender. The term 'sexual assault' has also been widened to include forced unnatural sex, and allows victims to complain to police.

This provision, experts say is a step in the right direction because the word ‘rape’ is inherently patriarchal and could be permanently be embossed in the life, perception and self-esteem of a woman once they become a victim of ‘rape’. Sexual assault has wider connotations and even if the level of crime is equal, at the semantic level, sexual assault carries less of a sexist tag than rape. This is important. Secondly it was long imperative that the rape laws take cognisance of the empowerment of the LGBT community who were long silenced, vilified and looked down upon. And one constant demand of the community was that sexual crime against men be included in the laws on sexual crime, an idea that has now found fruition in the proposed bill. Surely, law when enacted, will go a long way in protecting the right of men who believe in same-sex relationships but who could be prone to sexual violence.

Also, the fact that not just a jail term but a life term could be handed over as punishment for sexual assault could be a better deterrent than now. The bill also lays down strict provisions under which if  people below 18 years makes a complaint of sexual assault, he/she would not have to face the accused in court or police stations and an amendment to the exiting Evidence Act will ensure that a complainant’s sexual background cannot be made a matter of discourse in sexual assault cases. Also for the first time acid attacks have been included under standalone provisions in the IPC and could invite even a life term or many years in jail. Stalking, too, has been brought under a separate section and is punishable. The bill has very strict provisions for sexual assault in police custody, shelter and remand homes and even hospitals.

Doubtlessly, the proposed bill is a welcome improvement on existing rape laws and seems to have taken social realities of a changing India into the cognisance. The government  should make all arrangements for the speedy transformation of the bill into an act.
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