With the Lok Sabha clearing the anti-rape bill and the Rajya Sabha likely to give its nod on Thursday, this will be the Parliament’s third attempt in 30 years, to update the definition and punishment for the offence of rape.
It remains to be seen whether the Parliament would be third time lucky in its effort to provide a widely acceptable definition and an effective deterrent against rape.
The previous two changes made in criminal laws relating to rape were a consequence of public outrage following the December 16 gang rape in the capital.
Criminal laws were amended for the first time in 1983 to widen the definition of rape in the IPC and to provide safeguards for rape victims.
Public anger against a Supreme Court judgment in the Mathura rape case, which acquitted two policemen of charges of raping a 16-year-old girl in a police station, forced the then government to change the law.
The government amended the criminal law and introduced the presumption of lack of consent in custodial rape cases, where sexual intercourse by the accused was proved and the victim stated it was without her consent.
The minimum jail term for custodial rapes was fixed at seven years and disclosure of the victim’s identity was made a criminal offence.
In 1997, an NGO sought a change in the definition of rape and the Law Commission of India in its report recommended replacing the word rape with sexual assault, the definition of which was expanded to include penetration by any part of the body and objects.
In 2002, the then NDA government partly accepted the report’s recommendation to prevent questioning of any rape victim about her “immoral character” and sexual history.