India’s New Rape Laws Draw Flak from Rights Groups

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Manish Swarup / AP

Activists from different women's organizations shout slogan during a protest in New Delhi on Feb. 4, 2013

The debate over how to provide better legal protection to victims of sexual violence rages on in India, with rights groups vociferously objecting to a new antirape ordinance that the government enacted over the weekend. After being approved by Cabinet last week, India’s President Pranab Mukherjee signed a bill on Sunday designed to toughen up existing laws by permitting capital punishment in rape cases in which the victim is murdered or left in a “persistent vegetative state” and allowing harsher punishment for crimes like acid attacks, sexual harassment and stalking.

The bill was no doubt envisioned as a quick, high-level response to the Dec. 16 gang rape that shocked this country and sent thousands of protesters to the streets to call for greater safety and justice for women. But rights groups have been quick to cast doubt on the move, calling it hasty and incomplete. On Jan. 23, a specially convened committee headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice J.S. Verma, known as the Verma commission, submitted a 657-page report to the government suggesting a broad and ambitious rethink of Indian criminal law relating to sexual violence, calling for faster justice and harsher punishment.

(PHOTOS: In India, a Rape Sparks Violent Protests and Demands for Justice)

The commission made more than 80,000 recommendations in its report. Among its key recommendations was that marital rape be made a criminal offense punishable with prison time. It also called for other legal changes that spoke to more fundamental cultural shifts, such as including domestic helpers in a pending sexual-harassment bill, an end to the humiliating and maligned “two-finger” test by which a doctor examines whether a rape victim has been sexually active before being attacked, a crackdown on the informal male-run village governance bodies called khap panchayats that have often called for regressive action toward women in rural India, and for military members accused of sexual attacks to be tried in civil courts. (Read more of our coverage on the Verma commission here.)

The ordinance signed over the weekend, which must be approved by Parliament within six months, reflects the government’s approach to use harsher punishments as a deterrent to help reduce violent crimes against women. It also echoes widespread calls from many Indians for capital punishment for the five accused men the Delhi gang-rape case, who are currently on trial in a court in the capital. (A sixth suspect is expected to be tried separately in a juvenile court.) While permitted in the constitution, the death penalty is rarely used in India. In its report, the Verma commission, responding to input from several rights group and the broader social debate about the death penalty, advised against its use in rape cases, instead recommending that the minimum sentences be extended and life sentences be better enforced.

(MORE: Panel Calls for Legal and Social Changes in Wake of Delhi Gang Rape)

This discrepancy and others between the commission’s recommendations and the ordinance have caused several women’s and human-rights groups to speak out. “The ordinance falls short of the Verma-commission recommendations,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said on Monday. “We hope that there will be a robust discussion in Parliament before this law is enacted, and that amendments will be made to ensure that the hard work of the commission and protests by citizens hoping for change are not wasted.” Others in the capital have reportedly called for protests this week in response to the bill.

Officials, meanwhile, have defended the government’s quick action, telling the media on Monday that the ordinance is a “first step” and assuring that recommendations made by the Verma commission that were not included in the bill will be debated in the session of Parliament scheduled to begin later this month.

MORE: India’s Shame

26 comments
deepakpalan
deepakpalan

And who is to decide , whether marital sex was rape or not. And what happens if the husband is denied sex time and again , simply because the wife was not interested in marrying him and at the same time not ready to divorce. Is he supposed to suffer in silence. What if the husband , decides to deny sex to his wife for the same reason. Will it be acceptable. What about the mental trauma caused to the other party who is denied this basic thing .People who do not want to have sex with their future husbands or wife , should and should not enter into marrigage, plain and simple.You cannot deny the husband or wife this right for conjugal relationship , once you have entered into marriage. All this crap of marital rape is rubbish and only intendend to harrass or torture husbands and nothing else.

helplines
helplines

@gmanka For some feminists, every heterosexual intercourse of a woman is rape. Lesbian sex is not.

helplines
helplines

@gmanka If a woman sleeps with husband in same bed, then she is consenting. Feminists want Men to be 2nd class citizens,with no legal rights

PlumHunter
PlumHunter

This country is still run by the same cultural backwardness that existed when it was a British colony. And we are allowing these individuals to immigrate to the USA to perpetuate these oppressive cultural attitudes!

ScottWan
ScottWan

Rape attempt: Iron rod inserted into woman's mouth on crying for help

New Delhi, February 05, 2013: A 24-year-old woman was critically injured in New Delhi after a man inserted an iron rod into her mouth during a rape attempt, police said on Tuesday.Anil Kumar, 26, a cable operator tried to rape the woman finding her alone at her house in south Delhi's Lajpat Nagar around 8.30pm on Monday, said the officer.

rohit57
rohit57

I wonder if laws against marital rape would be a good idea.  No doubt it takes place and it should not.  At the same time there is the fact that husbands have a legitimate exoectation of sex when they marry.   Is the government going to get into "when" and "how often"?   Is a cop going to come to your house and say, "You already had sex with your wife on Sunday.  Now no more until next Sunday."

I believe Judaism and perhaps Islam too gives women the right to sex within marriage.  Are women also going to be accused of marital rape through the psychological aggression of nagging?

And finally, we STILL do not know what happened between DSK and Diallo during those 15 minutes in spite of the New York police and various media being involved.  How is the Indian government going to take on the task of judging among several hundred million couples, over many decades of marriage?

 Not everything that is undesirable can be solved by passing laws and putting people in prison.    America believes that war is the solution to all international problems and prisons are the solution to all domestic problems.  This is why we spent two trillion dollars on two recent wars and California spends more on prisons than on higher education.

Let us please not give advice to other nations!!

9kittens
9kittens

@TIME Why don't women write the roles on RAPE every where! #WARONWOMEN

sharmapankaj31
sharmapankaj31

@TIME @TIMEWorld Isnt it shocking that a very important law is passed under pressure.

ExtrahAddis
ExtrahAddis

@safeworld4women afraid of what's next!

b
b

 @zillardsinclair  What no US protests re Steubenville, Glen Ridge, Ted Kennedy drowns his preg assistant, sanctioned rapes in Vietnam, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib? Continue: black slavery built the US, today we have rendering, NY alone has 100,000 child sex slaves (Nat Geog) .... Iraq's oilfields stolen by US companies, old Baghdad/Kabul destroyed.  No Indian calls this Christian or American culture, simply knows humanity needs improving.

BettyGibbs8
BettyGibbs8

ust before I looked at the receipt ov $4635, I accept that...my... neighbours mother had been actualie earning money part time on there computar.. there friend brother has been doing this 4 only about eleven months and resently paid for the dept on their cottage and purchased a brand new Maserati. we looked here, Great60.comCHECK IT OUT

ibtlius
ibtlius

"marital rape be made a criminal offense punishable with prison time."

Great!...... As long as the dummy husband dances and complies according to every wish of his wife, he can have his freedom (be allowed to stay out of jail)..... The moment he disobeys her orders....he can be thrown in jail with a simple false accusation of 'marital rape'...

The women's organization in India are out of control.....they have already successfully made the lawmakers to crawl on their knees and implement the draconian Section 498-A which enables vengeful 'educated and independent Indian women' to throw her husband and anyone related to him that she doesnt like, to jail by a simple false charge of dowry harassment.

Section 498A was inserted into the Indian Penal Code in 1983 via an amendment.

It reads:

498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.

Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation-For the purpose of this section, "cruelty" means-

(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her meet such demand.

The laws suffer from the following shortcomings:

  • Gender Bias: The laws do not recognize cruelty and domestic violence against men. The police in India almost never register complaints of extortion or violence against men in a domestic relationship, but registering a complaint under 498A (where a woman is the aggrieved party) is widespread.
  • Vague definitions of dowry and stridhan.
  • Presumption of guilt. IPC 304B states that if an accidental death of a wife happens within seven years of marriage, it is to be assumed to be murder unless the husband can prove his innocence. Similarly, the Dowry Prohibition Act (section 8-A) states, "Where any person is prosecuted for taking or abetting the taking of any dowry under Sec. 3, or the demanding of dowry under Sec. 4, the burden of proving that he had not committed an offence under those sections shall be on him."
  • Duplication of existing laws. Laws already exist to deal with offences against intimidation, violence, extortion and murder. A "dowry death" can be considered a murder, and a demand for dowry can be considered extortion under existing laws. The additional laws, instead of reforming the police, mostly serve to shift the burden of proof onto the accused.
  • Corruption in the police force, which often does no investigation before arresting innocent people.
  • Human rights violations: in most cases involving non-resident Indians, their passports are impounded and they are restricted from traveling outside the country.
  • No penalties for false complaints or perjury.
  • Often gifts offered by the bride's parents to win over the bridegroom are channelized into a dowry tunnel

Because of the heavy misuse of this section, Indian Parliament set up a committee(headed by Shri. Bhagat Singh Koshyari) in 2010, and asked for suggestions from general public regarding misuse of this law. The Supreme Court of India had termed this section of IPC as legal terrorism.

Vitruvians
Vitruvians

Dear Author,  "The commission made more than 80,000 recommendations in its report" is incorrect, they received 80,000 suggestions.

xmaseveeve
xmaseveeve

@TIME @TIMEWorld And not that apoligist ex-police chief woman who was on Hardtalk!

xmaseveeve
xmaseveeve

@TIME @TIMEWorld Oh my god - trigger alert. I feel physically sick. The only people qualified to talk about human rights in India are women.

zillardsinclair
zillardsinclair

@TIME @TIMEWorld It makes you stop and think how privilaged you are living in America

Atasi
Atasi

@TIME @TIMEWorld Thanks guys!

AnjanetteBolger
AnjanetteBolger

before I saw the draft that said $9798, I did not believe that my brother was like they say realie taking home money in there spare time at there computar.. there neighbour had bean doing this 4 only about a year and as of now repayed the morgage on there mini mansion and purchased a great new Buick. go to,http://fab99.com/

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

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Sinu
Sinu

@deepakpalan , If you are a hindu, follow your religions teaching. Vedas, has strictly advised that sex is for procreation. Read Gita at least once.

NikkaAlhuwali
NikkaAlhuwali

Culturally it is so backward that " A Brahmin has to kill his dog because it ate from a Dalit, and an other Brahmin has to get a shower after it was touched by a low caste impure".

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Case in point:  the first draft of the new rape laws made the act mandatory.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Such laws provide limited protection since it almost by definition comes down to he said/she said; that doesn't mean they shouldn't exist.

safeworld4women
safeworld4women

@ExtrahAddis that's why is so important to keep on talking about these issues..

DawnRodriguez
DawnRodriguez

@ibtlius Too bad.  Rape is a crime.  It doesn't matter who does it.  Protecting the right of males to rape because the system is not perfect doesn't work for women.