Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

India passes sexual-violence law in response to deadly rape

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NEW DELHI -- India's Parliament passed a sweeping new law Thursday to protect women against sexual violence in response to a fatal December gang rape and beating of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi.

The new law, which still requires the president's signature before it becomes official, makes stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment a crime. It also provides for the death penalty for repeat offenders or for rape attacks that lead to the victim's death. The law also makes it a crime for police officers to refuse to open cases when they receive complaints of sexual attacks.

Activists hailed the law as a milestone in India's women's-rights movement, even as they raised concerns over some of its provisions as well as the country's poor record of law enforcement.

"It's a significant moment. We have taken many steps forward," said Vrinda Grover, a senior lawyer and a women's activist. "Much, much more needs to be done."

The bill was passed Thursday by the upper house of India's Parliament, two days after the lower house approved it.

The law was hurried through Parliament after the Dec. 16 gang rape sparked nationwide protests demanding the government do more to safeguard women. The government set up a panel headed by a retired judge, which recommended sweeping changes to India's laws governing crimes against women. The cabinet quickly passed an ordinance incorporating some of those suggestions, but Parliament had to pass a new law by next month or the ordinance would have expired. Many lawmakers complained the law was being rushed through without the proper debate or opportunity for amendment.

Home Affairs Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the new law is the most stringent effort to curb sexual violence ever in India. But Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, said significant problems remain, especially the government's refusal to criminalize marital rape.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2013 A17

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