Know the Changing Rape Law!
The issue of rape has probably become one of the most fiercely discussed and debated topics over the past couple of years. After the horrific incident that occurred on 16 December 2012, there was a dramatic upsurge in the number of people opening up and expressing their concern over the rising instances of rape in the country as rape infringes the bodily integrity of a woman apart from causing immeasurable mental and physical injury.
Seeing the public reaction and outburst, the legislature, in an attempt to pacify the citizens, introduced an ordinance that amended the hither to existing rape law. In an equal amount of haste, the ordinance became the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013. The newly passed legislation made changes to three of the major criminal statutes- Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act. Though we vehemently condemn the offence, we do not have a basic understanding of the offence. In order to better understand the remedies and solutions that the law seeks to provide, we need to be clear of the basics of this offence.
- Originally, the offence of rape was listed in Sections 375 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code. After the new legislation, these sections have been substantially altered and a slew of new sections have been inserted to bring within the ambit of the offence certain other grave acts, derogatory to the dignity of women.
- Prior to the amendment, in order to constitute rape, non-consensual sexual intercourse had to be proved. Non-consensual sexual intercourse was equated with the penile penetration of the vagina. But the existing law, in order to bring certain other heinous acts under the purview of this crime, also criminalizes penetration of any body part or object into any of the orifice of a woman. The law has sought to change the traditional judicial interpretation of non-consensual sexual intercourse.
- The issue of consent is of utmost importance in the offence of rape as it is the absence of consent, which makes the act an offence. Surprisingly, the earlier law did not define consent, which eventually led to a lot of trouble as there were no definite parameters to decide whether the lady was willing or not. The new law rectifies this by defining what consent is. It equates consent with an unequivocal voluntary agreement, thereby dealing with the lacunae that existed earlier.
- In the aftermath of the Nirbhaya incident, the legislation has made gang rape a separate offence under section 376D and has provided for a minimum punishment of 20 years. The same section has also imposed a fine that will be used to meet the medical and rehabilitation expenses of the victim.
- The newly inserted section 376E, dealing with repeat offenders provides for a sentence as high as imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life or in some cases, even death.
These stringent provisions have been introduced to serve as deterrence for those who think of violating the sexual agency of a woman. The efficacy of this law will be tested in the coming time, but we need to be aware of the fundamentals of this offence, which affects the human conscience deeply.
About the Author: This article is contributed by Kudrat Agarwal, our Intern.