Of honour and honour

What to say when dignity of a woman is classified on the basis of the region she belongs to

COMMENT

HASSAN ZAINAGAIRI

The anti-rape ordinance promulgated by President of India last week though entails changes in the existing criminal law as recommended by the Justice Verma panel. But that all the recommendation of the panel has not been incorporated narrates a different story about women’s dignity and rights. It smacks of discrimination.
 First a word or two for some welcome proposals the ordinance talks about. The word ‘rape’ has been replaced with ‘sexual assault’ to expand the definition of all types of sexual crimes against women. And these include stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures like words and inappropriate touch. The ordinance, that Union cabinet cleared for President’s assent days before, went beyond Verma Committee’s suggestion and proposed capital punishment in case where the rape leads to death of victim or leaves her in ‘persistent vegetative state’. The minimum punishment, if the victim survives, will be 20 years imprisonment which can be extended to lifer, with court having the discretion of the quantum of sentence. The death penalty is a reflective of vociferous demand of people in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape incident. But Verma panel didn’t favor it.
 The ordinance also suggests that only a woman officer will take the statement of the victim of the sexual assault. This will significantly help the victim to open up and reveal the trauma she went through. The non-cooperating officials not helping the victim or harming the process of law have to serve five years jail term. To record the statement by police officers of the person reporting the crime at his or her residence and optional suggestion by government to videograph the proceedings can help a victim strengthening her case.
 An important provision that is bound to discourage the acid throwing potential criminals is protection given to victim under ‘right to self defence’ if in the process of self-defence the accused gets killed. 
 But ironically compensation, Verma panel suggested, for acid attack victims ‘adequate to meet at least medical expenses incurred by her’ had not been accepted by the government. Similarly the silence maintained by government on marital rape was disgusting.
 What, however, evoked more resentment, distaste and disappointment amongst civil society, women organizations, human rights groups and some conscientious political groups was the palpable silence (amounting to rejection) on two important recommendations. One, the scandalous politicians charged of sexual abuse should be debarred from contesting election and/or holding any public post. That it did not find favor in the cabinet shows the seriousness and insincerity of the political class in weeding out the moral corruption at the top. Obviously the rot set in has paralyzed the collective will of the politicians. Perhaps the hand to raise the pebble against the other lacks the moral force. In this putrid political environment they have their own parameters to sift good from bad propriety from impropriety.
 Second, changes in AFSPA. The three member justice Verma Committee has recommended that army and paramilitary personnel should not be given protection under AFSPA if they commit sexual offences against women. ‘there is an eminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocol in internal conflict areas’, the panel said and recommended a slew of measures for protection of women folk in troubled areas like Kashmir and northeast. The judicial panel had called for amendment in Section (6) of AFSPA so as to pave way for prosecution of soldiers involved in crimes against women in civil courts.
 The outright rejection of these recommendation exposes the double-standard of the government. A sexual assault on a woman on the streets of Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Kolkata etc is a crime warranting death or lifer but the same rather graver and heinous assault committed against a traumatized and ruined and the tormentor escapes the punishment because of impunity clause of AFSPA. Is not the dignity, honor and modesty of such women as precious as those of others mentioned? Are they not entitled to same rights, same dignity? Where is the concept of equality and justice? On one hand the government has tried to pacify the public outcry in the backdrop of Delhi incident by resorting to such strong anti-rape measures (indeed laudable) but on the other it has signaled it legitimizes sexual assault on women in conflict zones. Is this incompatible with ‘secular democratic’ idea India places its existences on?
 A crime committed ‘in line of duty’ cannot and should not be pardoned when the victim is a woman, more vulnerable. In fact, it is the disgrace of the uniform a soldier wears.

Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST




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