The nationwide outrage over Sunday’s incident has the government grappling for answers over its long delay in making changes to make rape laws more stringent.
The UPA government, which had begun an exercise to update the rape laws in 2005, took seven years to introduce the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill in Parliament — it was introduced on December 4 a few days ago.
The bill proposes to replace the word ‘rape’ with ‘sexual assault’ to give it a wider definition and a higher jail term. It also proposes to raise the age of consensual sex from 16 to 18 years to bring uniformity in all laws dealing with rape and prevention of child abuse. But its unlikely to become a law anytime soon.
The tedious process of inter-ministerial consultations — the ministries of home, law and women and child development were involved — and divergent expert opinions pushed the government to this sorry situation.
Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was at a loss of words in Parliament when MPs sought reasons for inadequate laws to deal with rape. “The bill to improve conviction rate in rape cases has been introduced in Lok Sabha” was all he could say.
The existing provisions in PIC provide for a minimum jail term of seven years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
The new bill retains the jail sentence, but takes away the discretionary powers of the court to impose a lower sentence. The new bill also allows victims of sexual assault, irrespective of their sex, to lodge a complaint with the police.