x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Activists welcome India's anti-rape law, with caution

While campaigners welcome a toughening of laws in India for sex crimes, they say they are not enough to tackle a crisis underpinned by cultural attitudes including from 'sexist' politicians.

NEW DELHI // Campaigners yesterday welcomed a toughening of laws in India for sex crimes but said they were not enough to tackle a crisis underpinned by cultural attitudes, including from "sexist" politicians.

India's lower house on Tuesday passed a bill increasing punishment for sex offenders, including the death penalty if a victim dies, three months after the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi sparked nationwide protests.

Women's rights activists hailed the legislation for broadening the definition of sexual assault to include molestation of private parts and for doubling the minimum prison sentence for gang-rape to 20 years.

It also allows for the death sentence if a rape victim dies or is left in a persistent vegetative state. Under existing laws, rapists face a minimum seven-year jail term.

Ranjana Kumari, the director of the non-profit Centre for Social Research, praised the decision to include a penalty for police who fail to register assault or harassment cases filed by women.

"This will go a long way in ending the culture of shame that surrounds victims of sexual crimes, so they don't feel afraid to approach police when they are attacked," Ms Kumari said.

But the bill still had huge holes, she said, citing legislators' refusal to criminalise marital rape or raise the punishment for acid attacks, from a minimum seven-year jail term to a proposed life sentence.

"Their failure to increase punishment for such a gruesome and commonplace crime like acid attacks, where a woman suffers every day for the rest of her life clearly sends a message that they don't take it seriously," she said.

The new laws also make no special provision for incest and fail to meet demands from some lawmakers for tougher sentences for child trafficking.

The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, which must now be approved by the upper house, was passed the same day that a British tourist jumped off her hotel balcony in the Taj Mahal city of Agra in a bid to escape an alleged sex attack.

That incident came just days after a Swiss cyclist was gang-raped in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh on Friday night in a brutal assault observers said underscored risks women face in the country of 1.2 billion people.