Village council heads in Rohtak, Haryana also known as Khaps have demanded amendment of the Marriage Act and lowering of marriage age for women, after new anti rape law draft reduces age of sexual consent to 16.
At a mass meeting of the Khap panchayats in Rohtak, dozens of representatives of the village councils from across the state gathered to ponder over the latest amends in the anti-rape law that has now reduced the age for sexual consent from 18 to 16 years.
"The Khap is against the decision to lower age of consent for sex. Either the minimum age for marriage should also be reduced to 16 else this law should be revoked," said Randhir Singh, a village head.
The cabinet on Thursday gave its approval to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013, which is based on the recommendations of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoMs) that was tasked with the responsibility.
A bill provides stringent punishment for crimes against women, including rape. It also defines acid attack, stalking and voyeurism as criminal offences.
The proposed bill also lowers the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years and makes rape a gender-specific offence under which only men can be charged for it.
Meanwhile, another village head said that the new law would give a wrong message and instead encourage teenagers for pre-marital sex and hence it should be rolled back.
"A girl having sex at the age of 16 and getting married at 18 will lead to bad effects in the society. It is natural that she won't be able to marry due to indulging in sex. If the government thinks that a girl can have sexual relations at the age of 16 then it should not hesitate in reducing the minimum age for marriage as well," said Sube Singh, a village head.
The bill, brought against the backdrop of the December 16, 2012, gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in a running bus in South Delhi, provides for minimum jail term of 20 years for rape, which may be extended to 'natural life' of the convict in jail.
There is also provision for death sentence if the victim dies or is left in a 'persistent vegetative state'. Stalking and voyeurism have also been defined as criminal offences in the bill.
Sustained stalking will be a non-bailable offence. The bill had divided the cabinet at its special meeting on Tuesday and was referred to a Group of Ministers (GoMs) to sort out differences on various aspects of the proposed law.
The GoM finalised the draft on Wednesday amidst the government's keenness to expedite the bill that will replace an ordinance promulgated on February 3.
The bill uses the term 'rape' which will be gender- specific, in contrast to the gender-neutral 'sexual assault' as proposed in the ordinance.
In the ordinance, it was 18 years. The measure, on the lines of the ordinance, has not touched on the issue of making marital rape a separate offence.