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A uniform response

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill will not spare law enforcers who are guilty of sexual crimes.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2013 07:37 IST

The UPA seems to have finally woken up to the fact that it cannot act as the custodian of women's security as long as its uniformed representatives are more often than not the perpetrators of crimes such as rape and molestation.

This seems to have prompted the government to actively consider the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill. If passed, it will ensure that officials of its police, armed forces, jails and hospitals will spend the rest of their natural lives in prison if ever convicted of sexual assault.

While those in metropolitan cities can start hoping for a more sensitised police force, the Bill is sure to give more weight to the demands of Kashmiris and women from Chhattisgarh and the Northeast, all of whom have long sought justice for crimes committed against them by men in uniform.

In Kashmir, for instance, the 1991 incident at Kunan Poshpora has still not been forgotten. On February 23 of that year, a group of soldiers from the 4th Rajputana Rifles were accused of raping more than a hundred women for over eight hours.

History then seemed to repeat itself in 2009 when two young women (aged 22 and 17) were found raped and murdered in the state's Shopian district.

Here too the fingers of suspicion pointed first toward CRPF personnel, but protected by laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), none of the suspects were asked to appear before a civil court.

Arguing that AFSPA encourages impunity by offering immunity, Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila has now been fasting for over 12 years in a bid to convince the government that the 1958 Act be repealed.

Though incongruous with their stature, sexual assault by uniformed men is not limited to our border areas. Last week, two constables in Udaipur were arrested for raping a 14-year-old girl.

In 2011, Soni Sori, a tribal teacher in Chhattisgarh was raped and tortured in the Dantewada police station itself.

When she narrated her ordeal, it seemed as gruesome as that of the December 16 Delhi rape victim. As we know from bitter experience, passing a legislation alone is not enough. It must be made to work.

A life term and taking away the right to a presidential pardon may seem harsh but these are steps that are needed to remove the ugly stain that has spread over the uniform in the eyes many people, particularly women.