The nationwide outrage over the December 16 gang rape forced the government to make sweeping changes in the outdated criminal laws dealing with heinous crimes against women.
It was forced to accept the popular demand of death penalty for rapists who left their victims with permanent physical or mental damage.
Moreover, those guilty of committing gang rape now have to spend their entire lives in jail without any provision of mercy.
For the first time, the 153 year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC) now recognises stalking, sexual harassment and voyeurism (watching a woman engaging in a private act, where she would have expected not be observed) as crimes, carrying a jail term ranging from three to seven years.
These were among the key recommendations made by the expert panel headed by former Chief Justice of India, the late JS Verma.
Another key change in the IPC is the fresh provision of life imprisonment for those held guilty of throwing acid “which causes permanent or partial physical damage or disfigures any body part”.
The updated and wider definition of rape prescribes a higher jail term for those committing the offence by misusing their position of power and influence and also for those indulging in this crime during communal riots and sectarian violence. Such offenders will have to spend rest of their lives behind bars.
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, which came into force in April, makes it mandatory for all government and private hospitals in the country to provide free medical treatment to women victims of any form of sexual violence. Refusal to do so is now a criminal offence, punishable with a one-year jail term.
It further states that the treatment of such victims should start immediately on their arrival in hospitals and the doctors on duty and the staff merely “need to inform the police through any mode of communication and not wait till the police actually arrive.”
Any police officer found guilty of refusing to record a complaint given by a victim of heinous crimes or by anyone on her behalf could face a jail term of up to two years.
Important changes in the Indian Evidence Act include shifting the onus of proving innocence in cases of sexual assault on the accused. “In cases where the sexual intercourse by the accused is proved and the question is about consent and if the victim states that she did not give the consent, the court shall presume there was no consent.”
• Trials in all kinds of sexual assault cases against women should be completed within two months of filing of chargesheet in court
• No police officer can refuse to record a complaint of heinous crime against women, either from the victim or on her behalf
• No hospital and nursing home can turn away a victim of sexual assault on the pretext that it will wait for the police to arrive
• During trial in a rape case, no question related to the character or previous sexual experience of the victim can be asked
• In rape cases where the question is whether the victim gave her consent or not, the victim's version will be treated as final.