Women on streets may feel safe with the government now planning to make changes in the Indian Penal Code to make punishment for molestation more stringent, especially for habitual offenders.
Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury has asked the ministry officials to consult legal experts on how the molestation law can be strengthened. The intervention takes place in the wake of the New Year molestation case in Mumbai, where two NRI women were assaulted by a mob outside a five-star hotel on December 31 night.
The ministry wants the definition of molestation under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code to be changed in order to make it more direct. The National Commission for Women had suggested that molestation should be defined as ‘touching a woman with a sexual purpose without her consent’.
The present definition is ‘sexual assault with the intent of outraging the modesty of the woman’. Ministry officials say the problem with the definition is that proving the intent of the guilty in a court of law is difficult. But the NCW’s definition is more comprehensive because it involves the victim, as her consent is necessary for touching her, an official said.
Although the NCW submitted is draft Bill on revision of the IPC with relation to sections dealing with offences against women, ministry officials admit that not much forward movement has taken place so far. “The proposed Bill is under consideration,” an official said.
More than the definition, the ministry is serious about increasing the punishment for molestation. Chowdhury wants rigorous punishment up to seven years for a habitual offender but a minimum punishment of two years. Currently, the maximum punishment under section 354 is two years. “In most cases, the punishment is not more than a few months if the person is found guilty — the chances of proving which are difficult,” an official said.
Government data states that a woman is molested in India every 26 minutes but the rate may be higher because most of cases are not reported.