Stalking, stripping not sex crimes for Govt
New Delhi, January 1
Documents with The Tribune show that the Home Ministry cited vague reasons to defend its decision to not treat stalking and stripping as separate categories of sex offences in the new anti rape Bill.
If that wasn’t enough, it outright rejected another critical recommendation from women’s organisations to lay down the concept of command responsibility when crimes against women are committed by government officials.
“Stalking etc was discussed by the HPC (high powered committee) and it was opined that it will be difficult to prove the offence of stalking and hence not covered (read in the new Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012). Humiliation etc are difficult to define and establish in the court of law and hence not covered. Separate provision for each offence is not relevant as these are covered under Section 354 of IPC which deals with use of criminal force on women to outrage her modesty and Section 509 IPC which deals with use of words to do the same,” the Home Ministry said in response to a detailed critique of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012 that over 20 women’s groups submitted to the Government. The Bill (no suggestions incorporated) was introduced in Lok Sabha on December 4.
The Government response came on specific suggestions from top lawyers and women’s rights activists who questioned the lack of codification of crimes of non penetrative sexual assault in the new Bill.
The Bill retains a narrow definition of sexual assault focusing on penetration although it goes on to define rape as penetration beyond peno vaginal penetration.
The critique (copy is with The Tribune) said that sexual crimes form a continuum and the Bill should recognise the structural and graded nature of sexual assault based on concepts of hurt, harm, injury, humiliation ad degradation. “We should formulate new provisions to define crimes that punish acts of stripping, parading a woman naked, tonsuring her head and mutilating her. These acts may not require physical contact but are intended to sexually degrade a woman. Stalking and blackmailing including through the internet should be codified as crimes under the rubric of sexual offences,” women activists said.
The critique was also submitted to the National Advisory Council which UPA chief Sonia Gandhi heads.
“Nothing was done to incorporate our suggestions. Now there is a new committee to look at the laws. Our question is why was there no debate on a Bill when it was being drafted? Why this hypocrisy?” asks Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover.
The Bill retains old IPC sections - 354 and 509 -- which contain archaic notions of outraging the modesty of women. “These notions needed to be replaced with sexual crimes which rest firmly on the concept of violation of bodily integrity and dignity,” said activist Madhu Mehra.
Strangely, the Home Ministry did not even respond to women’s groups’ directly and they had to approach NAC for a reply.
The reply rejects the suggestion to grade sexual crimes despite overwhelming evidence around us that stalkers can become potential rapists and murderers. Today, a 20-year-old BPO executive in Delhi was stabbed by her long time stalker after she refused his advances. Priyadarshini Matoo was stalked for a long time before being raped and killed by Santosh Singh.
The Home Ministry rejected another recommendation that sought fixing of chain of responsibility in cases of crimes against women by government officials. “How can you hold someone higher up in the authority responsible if he has no knowledge of the crime. This suggestion is against the principle of natural justice and can be misused,” it said.
The suggestion was: In case of sexual assault by state personnel, authorities higher up in hierarchy should be held liable for dereliction of duty. Ignorance of lack of information about sexual violence committed in his or her jurisdiction cannot be an excuse.
Former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana HC Mukul Mudgal: Codify stalking as a separate sex crime as it can be worse than the act itself. Stripping and eve teasing must be treated like traffic offences and summary trials held to try their perpetrators. Student volunteers must be recruited to help law enforcers with trial of these offences
Alka Sarin, Advocate: Of course stalking can be proved in courts. It must be treated as a separate offence
Vrinda Grover, women rights activist: High time to repeal Sections 354 and 509 that contain archaic concept of outraging the modesty of women. Unless the Government recognises the graded nature of sexual crimes, nothing will change