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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

5 FEB, 2013, 04.00AM IST, Ordinance has nothing for gender justice


5 FEB, 2013, 04.00AM IST, 

Ordinance has nothing for gender justice


The commission has very correctly insisted that laws dealing with rape and sexual assault must be gender-specific and that sexual crimes against males can be dealt with separately.
The commission has very correctly insisted that laws dealing with rape and sexual assault must be gender-specific and that sexual crimes against males can be dealt with separately.
By: Subhashini Ali 

The government, in its wisdom, has promulgated the Criminal Law (amendment) ordinance barely three weeks before a Parliament session. The government claims to have displayed its strong commitment to ensuring justice to women victims of assault and violence and to have honoured the sentiments of those who took to the streets to express their outrage and anger over the Delhi gangrape case. 

The principal Opposition party, BJP, has welcomed the ordinance with alacrity. Both these acts have done nothing to mitigate the objections raised by many who are committed to gender justice and have campaigned and struggled for effective legislation and its implementation. On principle, there can be no justification for an ordinance few weeks before a Parliament session. 

In this case, the ordinance route is also objectionable because there is a great need for Parliament to consider and debate the plethora of observation, suggestions and recommendations that the commission has made. Many of these have been ignored or rejected by the ordinance. The commission has very correctly insisted that laws dealing with rape and sexual assault must be gender-specific and that sexual crimes against males can be dealt with separately. It has also recommended that rape should form part of sexual assault but not be subsumed by it. Despite the fact that these are demands of the women's movement too, the ordinance rejects them. 

Then, the commission not only made a set of recommendations on the extremely important issue of sexual harassment in the workplace but endorsed the criticisms on the pending bill made by the All India Democratic Women's Association and others. The ordinance is silent on this issue as it is on the demand for a separate law to deal with the barbaric crimes of 'honour'. 

The commission supports this demand while AIDWA has prepared a draft and submitted it to the government. The Verma commission has also had the courage to challenge several sacred cows — the sanctity of the institution of marriage, the special protection afforded to military personnel by Afspa and the immunity of senior officials. It has recommended treating marital rape as any other form of rape, prosecution of military personnel accused of rape just like other citizens and demanded that no sanction be required for the prosecution of a judge or magistrate or public servant accused of crimes against women. 

The ordinance has rejected all these suggestion and is silent on the commission's suggestions to make it difficult for those accused of crimes against women to contest elections. These acts of omission and commission by the government and the unqualified support they have received from BJP are strong indictments of their support to patriarchy and an unjust status quo. 

They are completely unacceptable at a time when violence in the marital home has become rampant, when military personnel in places like Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir face charges of rape and brutal assault from literally hundreds of women and when senior government officials have been found guilty of abusing their positions to commit sexual assault and rape. The commission has made important suggestions regarding medical examinations and recording the statements of victims and cross-examining them in camera. The attitude of judges and the atmosphere in the courts have also been dealt with. Removing gender prejudice from classrooms and textbooks and the need for modern methods of sex education are strongly advocated. 

The institutions where children and juveniles experience state 'care' are excoriated for their insensitivity and, often, criminal environment. Trafficking of women and girls has been dealt with in great detail. The commission has displayed fidelity not only to the mandate that it received from the government but from the real mandate that brought it into existence. 

Violence against women and girl-children in situations of communal and caste violence has to be addressed. The establishment of fast-track courts to deal with cases of rape and sexual assault has to be prioritised. Similarly, the debate on the punishment to be awarded to juveniles convicted heinous crimes must be dealt with. The issue of compensation and rehabilitation of victims of rape and sexual assault cannot be left to the whims and fancies of individual politicians and governments. 

The government cannot be allowed to manoeuvre its way out of its commitment to do all that is necessary to create an environment of security for girlchildren and women. 

(The writer is V-P of the All-India Democratic Women's Association)