Maharashtra is a progressive state, so why is it not taking the initiative and making offences against women, such as molestation and sexual assaults, non-bailable, the Bombay high court asked on Friday, expressing displeasure over government inaction.
Shocked out of complacency by the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in December, citizens across the country have been campaigning for harsher penalties, stricter measures to improve women’s safety and sensitive policing, while lawmakers are mulling over making India’s rape laws tougher.
The high court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by NGO Help Mumbai Foundation concerning women’s harassment in local trains and their lack of a sense of security in view of the recent spate of crimes — both across the city and the country — when it pulled up the government.
“Why are you not doing something?” the division bench of chief justice Mohit Shah and justice Anoop Mohta asked the state, referring to its earlier orders to consider making such offences non-bailable.
The court had first asked the state to make such offences non-bailable in July 2011 when it had taken suo motu cognisance of a series of reports in Hindustan Times that highlighted the plight of women commuters in Mumbai. Making the offences non-bailable and enhancing punishment would act as deterrents, the court had said.
“Your stand is that Parliament should do it [amend Criminal Procedure Code to make crimes against women non-bailable], but you are also a responsible government,” the court said.
Reacting to the high court’s remarks, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Friday said the state would raise the issue with the Centre. “We will study what the court said and take appropriate action. We are very serious about issues related to women’s safety,” Chavan said.
The bench also asked directed the state to submit within a week a copy of the report of Justice CS Dharmadhikari committee, appointed in October 2010 to examine, among other things, the need to amend sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to outraging the modesty of a woman. The committee submitted its report last month. Of its 98 recommendations, the state has apparently accepted 67.
The bench also wanted to know what steps the state has taken to implement the November 30 Supreme Court directives for dealing with verbal harassment of women.
The apex court has directed all state governments to depute plainclothes women police officers in public places such as bus stands, railway and metro stations, theatres, malls, parks, beaches and places of worship as well as install CCTV cameras at strategic spots in such places.
It has asked that women helplines be set up within three months in various cities and towns so that women in distress can reach out for help.