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(Feb 11, 2013) On February 3, 2013, the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, signed with immediate effect a Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, adopted by the country's Cabinet on February 1, which will impose harsher penalties for the current crime of rape, which is replaced in the Ordinance with the crime of sexual assault. (Alison Sacriponte, India President Signs Sexual Assault Ordinance, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Feb. 4, 2013); Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, SCRIBD.COM (Feb. 3, 2013).)
Adoption of the Ordinance was prompted by the gang rape and assault of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a private bus on December 16, 2012. Her male companion was severely beaten in the attack. The young woman's subsequent death on December 29 from the severe injuries she sustained led to mass, nationwide demonstrations and resulted in the formation by the central government of a three-member commission, headed by a former Indian Supreme Court Chief Justice, J.S. Verma, to "review the present laws so as to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault." (
Women's rights groups, civil society organizations, and activists are reported to be critical of the Ordinance, arguing that it is inadequate to combat sexual crimes against women and was passed without due debate. (Sacriponte, supra.) According to Human Rights Watch, "[t]he
The Verma Report
The broad-ranging, 631-page report covered not only specific recommendations but included suggestions on political, judicial, and cultural reform as well. Its harshest criticism was directed against the manner in which the police and the judiciary have responded to rape accusations; it therefore argued that the government's most pressing tasks included increasing police accountability and applying harsher penalties for persons convicted of sexual assault. However, it did not advocate the death penalty for those convicted of rape. Among its other recommendations were the creation of special courts to handle rape cases, increased enforcement of laws against human trafficking, and allocation of additional judicial resources to further speedier trials and appeals of rape cases. (Keith Herting, India Panel Suggests Legal Reforms in Response to Rape Incident, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Jan. 23, 2013); J.S. Verma, Leila Seth, & Gopal Subramanium, Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law (Jan. 23, 2012), JURIST website.)
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013
The Ordinance newly stipulates imposition of the maximum sentence of the death penalty upon conviction in cases of sexual assault that result in death or a vegetative state (art. 376A). It doubles, to 20 years from 10, the minimum sentence available for sexual assault of a minor, by a group, or by policemen or a person in authority, etc., and makes the sentence for such crimes extendable to life imprisonment without parole. In addition to cracking down on sexual assault, the Ordinance introduces, among other crimes, those of voyeurism, stalking, disrobing of women, and acid attacks as specific offenses under the Indian Penal Code. (Sacriponte, supra; Vishwa Mohan, President Pranab Mukherjee Gives Nod to Tough Anti-Rape Ordinance, THE TIMES OF
India had had an eight-year, unofficial moratorium on the death penalty until November 2012, when it hanged Ajmal Kasab, convicted of having taken part in the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. On February 9, 2013, Azfal Guru, condemned to death for his role in the 2001 attack on the Lok Sabha (India's parliament), was reportedly hanged in secret. Indian law prescribes that the death penalty is to be applied only in the "rarest of rare" cases. (India: Secret Hanging a Major Step Back, HRW website (Feb. 9, 2013).)
The Ordinance provisions took effect immediately upon the President's signature because the Lok Sabha was not in session, and the President deemed it necessary to act quickly. If a bill is not passed later by the Lok Sabha, the provisions will lapse and no longer be valid. (Sacriponte, supra.)
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012
An earlier legislative proposal, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, No. 130 of 2012, was submitted to the Lok Sabha on December 4 and referred to committee on December 28, 2012. This bill seeks to amend the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973, and the Evidence Act, 1872. The amendment bill introduces three new offenses, including an offense related to acid attacks and replacement of the current offense of rape with sexual assault. (The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, PRS LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH (last visited Feb. 7, 2013) [with links to the bill text, bill summary, and comparison between the bill; the Verma Report; and the Ordinance, 2013] [if the link is inoperative, see The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, SCRIBD.COM (last visited Feb. 8, 2013); see also Full Text: The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, IBN LIVE (Dec. 31, 2012, at 2:05 p.m.), & Sajid Sheikh, Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012: A Welcome Step, LAWLEX.ORG (Jan. 27, 2013).)
The Code, the Ordinance, and the 2012 bill all provide a minimum punishment of seven years, a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, and a fine for the offense of rape (in the Code) or sexual assault (in the newer documents). However, the Code allows the court to impose a lower sentence while the bill removes this power of the court. Neither the Code nor the amendment bill contain a provision that specifically addresses sexual assault resulting in the victim's death or persistent vegetative state. (Harsimran Kalra, Crimes Against Women: How the State Changed Its Position: A Comparison of Criminal Law Amendment Bill, Justice Verma Report and the Ordinance, GOVERNANCE NOW (Feb. 07, 2013) [click on attachment to see comparative chart]; The Indian Penal Code, World Intellectual Property Organization website (last visited Feb. 7, 2013).)
Five of the six suspects in the
At the suggestion of the
|Author:||Wendy Zeldin More by this author|
|Topic:||Criminal law and procedure More on this topic|
|Jurisdiction:||India More about this jurisdiction|
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Last updated: 02/11/2013