Protection (from rape) or Freedom (to have sex)?
March 13, 2013
The debate in India surrounding reforms to the sexual violence laws are a reflection of the changing mores in Indian society. With economic liberalization in 1991, a strong middle class with access to new goods, movies, and ideas has emerged. As a result of the mass protests in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the President signed an Ordinance reforming the sexual violence laws on February 3, 2013. (The Ordinance took some provisions from an amendment to the Indian penal code that was pending in Parliament prior to the gang rape and adopted some provisions suggested by the Verma Committee report, but rejected other important provisions from that committee. The Verma Committee was formed by the government after international and national attention focused on the issue of gender-based violence). Article 123 of the Indian Constitution permits the President to put into place laws that have the weight of an act of Parliament when Parliament is in recess. But the Ordinance expires on April 4 unless Parliament adopts it or an amended version of it. The real deadline they are racing against is March 22 because Parliament is in recess again after that.
Key areas of disagreement such as the marital rape exemption and the availability of the death penalty in some cases of rape remain. Yesterday The New York Times India blog highlighted one issue of debate — whether the age of consent for purposes of the statutory rape provision should be 18 or 16. The Ordinance placed the age at 18 but prior to that it was 16. The new bill that is being considered seems to have lowered the age of consent to 16.