Women's groups slam ordinance

New Delhi, Feb. 2: Women's rights groups today lashed out at the government's "lack of transparency" in taking the "emergency" route of moving an ordinance and disregarding key Verma committee recommendations on dealing with sexual violence, saying it was a "mockery of justice".

They urged the President not to give his assent and also threatened to launch an agitation.

"We, as representatives of women's organisations, civil society groups, and activists committed to women's rights, convey our strong opposition to 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," they said in a joint statement.

The government had yesterday moved the ordinance to introduce tougher penalties for crimes against women, including death in extreme cases. The move came less than three weeks before Parliament's budget session, which begins on February 21.

The activists slammed the government for adopting the "emergency measure" of promulgating the ordinance. "We are alarmed at the complete lack of transparency displayed by the government in proposing an ordinance as an emergency measure. We wonder what objective and purpose will be served by such a hasty non-transparent measure, less than three weeks before the parliamentary session, since the proposed law will not retrospectively apply to the Delhi gang rape case," the statement said.

The groups called the ordinance a "mockery of justice".

The activists criticised the government for rejecting key suggestions of the Justice Verma committee on issues like doing away with the requirement of sanction for prosecuting armed forces personnel accused of crimes against women.

Another recommendation that was not accepted was inclusion of marital rape as a criminal offence.

The government did not also agree to the recommendation that no sanction would be required for prosecution of a judge or magistrate or public servant if accused of crimes against women.

"The Justice Verma committee targeted the impunity of family, policemen, army officers and bureaucrats. But the government went soft on that. Why were the recommendations on AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) not accepted? It's scandalous what the government has done," human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover said.

"We are told that virtually all the recommendations that we and others had hailed as signs of a paradigm shift in understanding violence against women ' all the recommendations that can actually strike at the heart of impunity ' have been dropped," said activists Kavita Krishnan, Farah Naqvi and Sunita Dhar.

Some groups threatened to launch an agitation. "We will be holding a protest, likely from Monday…. How can the cabinet, in just a few hours, sit and cherry-pick what the Verma committee and his team strenuously worked on for a whole month?" said Krishnan, the secretary of the AIPWA, the women's wing of the CPI-ML.

The CPM, too, joined the rights groups in condemning the government. "When Parliament is scheduled to meet in three weeks, it is against democratic norms to issue such an ordinance," the politburo said in a statement.

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