A day after dozens of civil society and women’s organisations termed the sexual offences ordinance approved by the Cabinet an anti-thesis of the Justice Verma Committee report, President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday accorded his assent to it.
At a news conference here on Saturday, women’s rights activists had questioned the motives of the government in going ahead with the ordinance post-haste and appealed to the President not to sign it. They are chalking out plans for nationwide protests to pressure Parliament not to allow the government to have its way.
Coming less than three weeks ahead of the budget session, the ordinance makes changes in the criminal law by amending the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) and the Evidence Act. It provides for capital punishment in cases of rape that leads to death or leaves the victim in “persistent vegetative state,” a proposal disfavoured by the Verma Committee.
The ordinance would have a life of six months unless Parliament approves a bill or bills incorporating the amendments effected to the IPC, the Cr.PC and the Evidence Act. The government managers have sought to give an impression that the ordinance was meant to address ‘a sense of urgency’ in the wake of the nationwide tumult over the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student inside a bus in the national capital on December 16, 2012.
The Verma Committee was constituted to recommend changes to the law for addressing such brutal sexual offences. As if responding to civil society’s anguish over the dichotomy between the ordinance and the Committee report, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said: “All you can do is that when Parliament is not in session, we can promulgate an ordinance. It does not mean that widespread consultations cannot take place when the actual bill is brought in Parliament.”
He asked the women’s organisations and all political parties to come together for widespread consultations with “all the sensitivity” needed.
Besides the death sentence, the ordinance enhances punishment for other crimes like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures or words and inappropriate touch.
Activist Kavita Krishnan, addressing a press conference here, said: “We wonder what objective and purpose will be served by such a hasty, non-transparent measure since the ordinance does not retrospectively apply to the Delhi gang rape case.”