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Central & South Asia

India protesters decry new rape law

Activists say legalisation passed in the wake of fatal gang-rape does not go far enough.
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2013 21:21
Protesters gathered near the parliament to protest against the law that was signed by the president on Sunday [AP]

Scores of demonstrators in India have demanded that the government repeal a new sexual violence law the Cabinet hurriedly passed last week and replace it with a more comprehensive measure.

Activists protesting near parliament on Monday said the law only followed some of the recommendations of a government panel set up after the fatal gang-rape of a woman in New Delhi two months ago.

The new law, passed by the Cabinet on Friday and signed by the president on Sunday, has increased punishments for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years.

It also provides for the death penalty in extreme cases of rape that result in death or leaves the victim in a coma. It has also made voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law.

The protesters criticised the new law as a smokescreen, because it does not deal with the issue of marital rape or sexual violence against women by armed forces personnel in conflict zones that had been recommended by the government commission. The new law also ignored the panel's recommendation to bar politicians facing rape charges from contesting elections.

'Wide consultations'

Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the government decided to bring in the new law through an ordinance - which allowed it to take effect immediately, though it will have to be approved by parliament within six months - since it viewed changing the law as a priority.

"The government wants to assure everyone that before it is tabled in parliament, we will hold wide consultations with all political parties before the bill is introduced,'' Chidambaram told reporters.

In just one month, the panel examined more than 80,000 submissions and produced a 630-page report recommending amendments to the laws governing crimes against women.

The panel was set up weeks after a woman and a male friend were attacked after boarding a bus December 16. The six men on the bus raped the woman and used the bar to inflict massive internal injuries to her, police say.

The woman died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

Five of the accused are on trial at a specially convened fast-track court where they have pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. A sixth suspect is to be tried by a juvenile court.

New Delhi, with a population of 16 million, has the reputation of being the country's "rape capital", recording more rapes annually than any other Indian city.

There were 706 rapes reported in 2012, a 23 percent rise from the previous year, according to the Delhi police, while molestation cases rose by 11 percent to 727.

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