Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday extended a "cautious welcome" to the ordinance against rape, saying that it represented a step forward, but fell way short of the historic necessity and national consensus for a comprehensive constitutional initiative on the issue.
In a statement here, Badal said the union government had surprisingly chosen to turn a blind eye to recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission and women's organisations and the advice of well-meaning eminent social activists and jurists in favour of stringent provisions on all gender offences.
The CM said the ordinance's timing also raised questions as the prosecution had already "absolved" one of the most serious offenders in the Delhi gangrape case on the grounds of juvenile crime. "It sounds strange that the government first seeks the opinions of all chief ministers and then dithers on their recommendations regarding lowering of the upper age limit for 'minors' in rape cases.
I was of the view that lowering the upper age limit for adult franchise from 21 to 18 years had provided the rationale for a similar reduction for juveniles in rape cases. But the government not only chose to ignore recommendations of state governments but also allowed the FIR in the Delhi case to be presented in a manner that would clearly allow one of the most brutal crimes against women to go unpunished. This is strange. The government's intentions are not clear," the CM said.
Badal said he strongly advocated drastic and bold constitutional amendments through a comprehensive legislation on the issue, aimed not just at pre-empting and punishing crimes against women but also at powering women in many other ways. "You cannot segregate gender offences against women from their general plight in society. A sweeping social upscaling of women's status in society is badly needed. In the absence of such empowerment, no other law will have meaning or be fully effective," he added.
The CM also expressed surprise that the government had chosen to cold-shoulder women's organisations and other social activists who had been advocating more effective and stringent laws on the subject. "Few issues had moved the national conscience the way the Delhi gangrape had.
A girl had paid with her honour and life but in the process an opportunity had come for society and the nation to address critical issues of safety, equality and empowerment of nearly half of the country's population, represented by women. But the government had shown its insensitivity by getting bogged down in legal and political hair-splitting instead of taking courageous steps forward," Badal added.