‘Instead of making suggestions to Centre, it should act on WBHRC recommendations’

Even as the Chief Minister urged the Centre to enact stringent laws to curb violence against women, the Mamata Banerjee government has been sitting on the recommendations of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission submitted eight months ago.

“The Commission is firmly of the view that the State, having regard to its glorious tradition of protecting women’s honour, should bring in amendments to make Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code more compatible with human rights norms.” Section 354 deals with assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.

‘No communication’

“So far, there has been no official communication from the government regarding the recommendation made in April” an official of the Commission said.

Speaking to The Hindu, Chairman Asok Kumar Ganguly said that while none could apprehend developments such as the December 16 gang rape in New Delhi, the Commission had suggested that the State government amend Section 354, citing references from the recommendations made by the Law Commission of India.

On December 29, after the nationwide outrage over the Delhi incident, Ms. Banerjee said provisions of the IPC and the Criminal Procedure Code were outdated, and offered the support of her party if the Centre enacted strong laws to deal with perpetrators of crimes against women.

Justice Ganguly said Odisha and Andhra Pradesh had amended Section 354, making the offence non-bailable and mandating higher punishment.

“Anything other than rape is treated as outraging the modesty of a woman. In many cases, there is no medical evidence to prove rape, but outraging modesty is proved,” he said. But in such cases, the perpetrators were let off with minor punishment.

The punishment for an offence under Section 354 (two years’ imprisonment), which is cognizable but bailable, is a “mockery.”

The Commission recommended that the offenders “be punished with imprisonment of either description for not less than five years but which may extend to seven years…”

Civil rights organisations are critical of the government demanding action from the Centre, while doing nothing on its own. “Instead of urging the Centre to make stringent laws, the State government should take into account the recommendations made by the WBHRC,” said Ranajit Sur, secretariat member of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights.

Left Front chairperson Biman Bose said the Left Front government made some recommendations, which Ms. Banerjee should submit to the Centre.