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It falls short of expectations

The anti-rape ordinance is a milestone. But why wasn't it debated more widely?

india Updated: Feb 03, 2013 21:34 IST

The UPA has often been accused of being sluggish when it comes to reacting to spontaneous public protests. In 2011, when Anna Hazare started his fast for the passage of the Lokpal Bill, the government failed to gauge the depth of public anger; a near-repeat happened after the December 16 gang rape in Delhi when people from all walks of life came out in huge numbers to demand better security for women and severe punishment for the six accused in the case. The government managed to regain some lost ground when it set up a three-member Justice JS Verma panel on December 23 to suggest ways for improving safety and security of women. Six days after the panel submitted its report, the government followed it up with another bit of quick action: it accepted most of the suggestions of the Verma panel and cleared an ordinance (a legal order made by the government when Parliament isn't in session) that makes punishment harsher for rapists.

While most - especially the target audience (the expanding middle class who led the protests against the government) - will be happy with such swift action, it is also important to realise that some very crucial recommendations have been left out and no explanations have been given as to why they were left out. Important suggestions of the panel such as criminalising marital rape, reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and trying military personnel accused of sexual offences under criminal law, and barring politicians facing such cases from contesting elections have not been included. For those who follow the protests that happen against the behaviour of army personnel in different parts of the country, especially in areas that are under the AFSPA, this omission would trigger more questions. The same holds true for marital rape. In a country where repeated incidents have shown that women don't find safety even within the four walls of their homes, this should have been accepted. More importantly, all the provisions of the ordinance should have been debated more widely before sending it to the President for his assent.

The net result of these crucial omissions and no debate is that even though the government has 'fast-tracked' the issue, it is once again being accused of not being 'transparent' and unilateral. And it cannot blame anyone but itself for such an end result.

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