Press Statement on reported Ordinance on Criminal Law Amendments relating to Sexual Violence, February 2, 2013

Press Statement on reported Ordinance on Criminal Law Amendments relating to Sexual Violence

Chennai, 2 Feb 2013:  Prajnya joins representatives of women’s organizations, civil society groups, and activists committed to women’s rights around India, in conveying our strong disapproval of the Government’s decision to move an Ordinance on the criminal law amendments related to sexual violence. We call upon the President of India to not sign such an Ordinance.  

Media sources have suggested that an Ordinance on amendments to sexual assault law was cleared by the Cabinet yesterday, on February 1, 2013, about 20 days before the next parliamentary session. We are appalled by the lack of transparency and the unseemly haste of this action. Parliament meets in three weeks, and in our view, the proposed changes in law should be debated there, openly along with an inclusive, consultative process in the Standing Committee. We read the stealth and haste of this Ordinance as a sign that the government in fact considers this too trifling an issue to debate on the floor of Parliament.

The sidelining of the Justice Verma Committee report also worries us. The report took on board the views and considered suggestions of many individuals and organizations with many years of experience as advocates, support service providers and social workers working with survivors of the whole spectrum of sexual and gender-based violence. We are particularly concerned to hear that the following recommendations made by the Justice Verma Committee have been ignored:

  • recognition in law of marital rape;
  • bringing sexual violence by members of the armed forces under the purview of criminal law; and
  • change in definition of consent to any sexual act.

Prajnya is very concerned to hear that the Ordinance introduces the death penalty as a punishment for sexual assault. In principle, Prajnya is opposed to capital punishment.

Women’s groups have been demanding comprehensive amendments in criminal law related to sexual violence for over two decades, and have expressed our endorsement of the Justice Verma Committee Report. We have made oral and written submissions to the Justice Verma Committee and our voices and concerns were reflected in the Committee’s report. We congratulate the Justice Verma Committee for completing the report in record time without compromising on consultations, dialogue, due process and transparency. Along with other groups, we reiterate the call to the Government of India to implement the recommendations of the report comprehensively, in letter and spirit—but with due process and open, thoughtful and inclusive debate in Parliament and other public fora.  

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