“Gender neutrality of accused will have a deep effect on women’s ability to even file complaints”

Demanding gender-just, sensitive and not just gender-neutral rape laws, women rights groups have noted that the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the 2012 Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill as well as the 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance not only violates the letter and spirit of the Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations but also endangers and deepens women’s vulnerability in this country.

Expressing their concern, representatives of women’s groups, human rights groups and activists say they are alarmed over major lacunae in the current legislative protection for women upheld by the Standing Committee report.

All-India Progressive Women’s Association secretary Kavita Krishnan says: “One pernicious provision of the Ordinance 2013 upheld by the Standing Committee report is blanket gender neutrality of the perpetrator of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Put simply: unlike in existing law where the accused is male, the Standing Committee recommendations if enacted into a proposed new Bill will make it possible for women to be charged with these offences. This is wholly unacceptable.”

Stating that apart from situations where women hold positions of statutory authority (like police officers), in all other situations making the accused gender-neutral means that complaints by women can be met with counter-complaints to get them to withdraw, she added. “Given the current odds against women securing justice, the gender neutrality of accused in sexual violence laws will have a deep chilling effect on women’s ability to even file complaints.”

Activists also dismiss the argument that gender-neutral laws allow young boys to be protected from abuse, because all young boys and girls are fully protected by gender-neutral laws in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The group has also recommended that the age of consent remain 16 years. Women rights activist Farah Naqvi says: “The Standing Committee report endorses the 2013 Ordinance by raising the age of consent from 16 to 18, thus criminalising the consent of young persons and exposing them to unjust imprisonment by forcing judges to take action merely on third party complaints, including khap panchayats.”

The group has demanded that rape within marriage also be recognised and that the Government look at ending impunity for sexual assault by security forces.

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