Changes are piecemeal, say disability rights groups as they oppose the government’s Ordinance in the wake of the Justice Verma Committee report

The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled has condemned the manner in which the government has introduced an ordinance to give effect to some of the amendments recommended by the Justice Verma Committee, to the law governing sexual offences, despite opposition from women’s organisations and some political parties.

The Justice Verma Committee had recommended a range of amendments to the criminal law, in order to protect the rights of women against sexual violence. The Committee recommended a number of amendments to the substantive and procedural law specifically addressing the needs of disabled victims of sexual assault.

According to Muralidharan, assistant convenor of the Platform, since Parliament is scheduled to begin its next session shortly, it is inexplicable why the government should resort to the ordinance route, in a non-transparent and undemocratic manner, keeping key stakeholders in the dark.

Pointing out that the ordinance has included recommendations like exempting the disabled from going to the police for investigation, specific provisions for the disabled in Test Identification Parades for identifying the accused. assistance to the disabled while recording statement before the Magistrate and such statement to be considered adequate for the purpose of examination in chief during the trial and removal of the phrase ‘dumb witness’ in Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act that has been replaced with ‘persons who are unable to communicate verbally’, it has said while these are indeed important changes in the law, which could positively impact the experience of persons with disabilities while dealing with the legal system, we feel the changes are piecemeal in nature and do not address the more substantive concerns that both women’s organisations and disability groups had expressed.

“Making the offence of sexual assault gender neutral would harm disabled women disproportionately. There is a widespread belief that disabled women are unable to control their sexual urges and hence make sexual advances on men, who are then wrongly charged with sexual offences. Making sexual offences gender neutral with respect to both the victim and perpetrator would result in situations where the male assaulter would be able to file counter-allegations of sexual assault against the disabled women, which would add to their further victimization,” the statement said.

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