January 24, 2013

India urged to strengthen policies to protect women

An Indian government panel pushes for policy changes after a fatal gang rape in New Delhi last month.

The Associated Press

NEW DELHI - A government panel recommended India strictly enforce sexual assault laws, commit to holding speedy rape trials and change antiquated policies aimed at protecting women.

The panel was formed after a fatal gang rape in New Delhi last month galvanized the public.

The panel received more than 80,000 suggestions for a complete overhaul in the criminal justice system's treatment of violence against women since the government set it up a month ago to help quell street protests sparked by the rape. The suggestions included banning a traumatic vaginal exam of rape victims to ending political interference in sex crime cases.

Women say they feel under siege and are so frightened they have structured their entire lives to protect themselves from harassment and attack. Many travel in groups, go out of their homes only during the day and carry sharp objects to stab men who grope them on public buses.

Those who are raped are often blamed by their families for the attack. If they report the crime, the police often refuse to file a report or try to get the victim and attacker to reach a settlement. If it reaches court, the case can drag on for years in the overburdened justice system.

"Failure of good governance is the obvious root cause for the current unsafe environment, eroding the rule of law and not the want of knee-jerk legislation," said retired Chief Justice J.S. Verma, who headed the three-member panel.

The panel recommended to the government Wednesday that police and other officials who fail to act against crimes against women be punished. It called for a crackdown on dowry payments to enhance women's status, since families are often forced into massive debt to get their daughters married. It also suggested the government appoint more judges to lessen the backlog of cases and ensure swift justice, and it called for updating the law to include crimes such as voyeurism and stalking.

"We hope the Parliament will take the legislative suggestions given by the committee," and translate these into law, Verma said.

Verma advocated strict punishment to prevent sexual harassment and assaults against women and sought reforms in how police treat rape victims.

He called for speedy justice and the setting of a time frame to deal with cases of crimes against women.

 

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