THE Union Home Ministry's decision to amend the law with regard to rape was long overdue and promises to bring the legal status of the crime in India on a par with that in developed countries. The narrow construction of " rape" made out under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code — with s*xual intercourse involving penile penetration of the v**gina being read as a necessary criterion — has ensured that countless perpetrators of s*xual assault have escaped the stringent punishment that a case made out as rape would entail.
By replacing the term ' rape' with ' s*xual assault' and bringing under its ambit acts like oral s*x or insertion of an object into a woman's body without her consent, we will no longer have the unseemly situation of anything that is not ' rape' seeing the rather mild Section 354 of the IPC— relating to assault with an intent to outrage a woman's modesty — being invoked.
Just as welcome is the move to introduce a new section — Section 376 C( 1) — to protect minors from s*xual abuse, which is rampant in India. Making this provision gender neutral should ensure that even abuse of male children gets suitably punished.
In this connection, increasing the minimum punishment when the accused is a relative or a person in a position of trust or authority to 10 years' imprisonment will hopefully act as a sufficient deterrent.
Increasing the age of s*xual consent for girls to 18, regardless of their marital state, too is a forward- looking proposal. By laying down that policemen who fail to properly investigate s*xual assault cases can be imprisoned for a year, hopes have been raised that what transpired with Ruchika Girhotra will not be repeated.
It is now for the government to get the proposals enacted as law without delay.