Union Home Minister Amit Shah last week introduced three Bills in Lok Sabha in a bid to “overhaul colonial-era criminal laws” to fight crime against women. The three bills were introduced to replace the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act.
One of the bills introduced seek to impose stricter penalties for those who marry women by hiding their identity or engaging in sexual intercourse under the “false promise of marriage, promotion or employment”. The said bill, termed Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), if passed, will replace the IPC so as to “strengthen the laws to fight crime against women”.
Home Minister said in cases of gang rape, the legal framework will now include penalties of either 20 years’ incarceration or lifelong imprisonment.
Moreover, if the victim is a minor, the bill stipulates the possibility of a death sentence for the perpetrator.
“The statement of the victim has been made compulsory in cases of sexual violence and the video recording of the statement has also been made compulsory in cases of sexual harassment,” Shah said.
“It will be compulsory for the police to give the status of the complaint in 90 days and thereafter every 15 days, to the complainant,” he added.
The bill has been met with jubilation and trepidation from all quarters. According to a report in The Guardian, certain legal professionals have criticized the renewed emphasis on crimes against women as “nothing more than a recycled concept”. They said the fundamental provisions largely remain unchanged. For instance, the punishment for gang rape—20 years of imprisonment or life sentence—mirrors the existing law.
The recently introduced legislation also defines consent. However, the new law does not acknowledge marital rape as a criminal act.
Legal experts speaking to The Guardian said the bills, if approved, simply moved existing provisions around. But those in favour said they enabled fresh discussions on the need to reform laws protecting women and girls. They said the new bill also increased transparency on criminal codes.
While the bill has been sent for further deliberation, it is likely that the government might have overcommitted. As legal experts claimed, the Indian judiciary system is already overburned. Introducing new laws will only put more pressure on the judicial system to try the old cases on the basis of reading the new sections.