The state government is proposing to amend Sections 354 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code to increase the punishment for sexual harassment and make the offence non-bailable. However, the legal fraternity and activists are divided over whether such an amendment would act as a deterrent for crimes against women.
Jamshed Mistry, an advocate, felt that making the offence non-bailable and increasing the punishment would definitely act as a deterrent. “However, the amendments should be publicised properly, so that people are made aware of them,” Mistry said. “Besides, the fact that such matters take too long to get decided needs to be looked into,” he added.
“It is possible that the accused can say he was being framed, or that he is not at fault, when the case comes up before the authorities. So it is important that witnesses should be willing to come forward to back up the complainant’s case,” Mistry said.
Lawyer and activist Maharukh Adenwalla, on the other hand, feels that unless such moves are backed by a good conviction rate, there is no point in increasing the punishment or making the offence non-bailable. “How many offenders have gone to prison for two years under Section 354?” Adenwalla asks.
“Such cases should be taken seriously right from the investigation stage to prosecution before a court. Offences of this nature have been occurring regularly. Now, since a person has died, the government has decided to propose an amendment,” she added. “What’s the point in increasing the punishment to four or six years if the whole system is not geared towards giving justice to victims?”
Flavia Agnes, lawyer and women’s rights activist, echoed this view, stating that most girls don’t even file a complaint because of the effort it takes to pursue the case. “I don’t think anything is going to be a deterrent because the more stringent the punishment, the more difficult it is going to be to prove the offence,” she said.