by Aayush Malik, NALSAR 2018
The alarming and horrific gang-rape of a girl in Delhi, and subsequent murder, on 16 December, 2012, led to calls from all quarters of the country for an amendment in the criminal laws of the country. In response to this, the three-member Justice Verma Committe was formed with Justice J. S. Verma as its chairperson. Other members were Justice (Retd.) Leila Seth and Ex-Solicitor General Shri Gopal Subramanyam. The comprehensive report prepared by the committee to reform the anti-rape law gave way to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. The amendment was in respect of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Amongst the various changes that were introduced, this article discusses the significant ones.
As a landmark move, the amendment has defined ‘acid attack’ as a separate offence under the IPC in section 100, by the addition of a ‘seventhly’ clause. Instances of acid attacks, or vitriolage, which involves throwing of a corrosive substance onto the body of the victim, have considerably increased in recent years in the country.
Another significant change introduced by the addition of Section 166 (B) is that no hospital, whether private or public, whether Centrally-run or State-run, can deny treatment to a victim of rape. Any denial of this sort may result in imprisonment for a term which may extend upto one year.
By the addition of 354 (D), voyeurism and stalking have been defined as separate offences. This change was alleged of being open to misuse, but it is important to notice that there are also guidelines so as to decide when the act committed would not amount to stalking. First-time offenders would be able to obtain a bail, but this would not be possible for repeat offenders.
Demands echoed for death penalty to those who committed the heinous crime on 16 December. In section 376 A, it has been said that in the incident of rape in which the victim dies, or is left in a ‘persistent vegetative state’, the offender would be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than twenty years. The same may extend to imprisonment for life, i.e. for remainder of that person’s natural life, or death by hanging. The Verma Committee report, rejected ideas like chemical castration, and limited the punishment of death penalty only for ‘rarest of rare’ cases.
The age of consent for sexual intercourse has been fixed at 18 years.
A noteworthy change in the Indian Evidence Act is the addition of a proviso to Section 376. According to this, in a trial involving sexual assault or rape, the previous sexual experience or ‘character’ of the victim would not be considered admissible as an evidence for determining the consent on the part of the victim.
The amendment has drawn appreciation at the national as well as international level. However, issues such as gender-neutrality of the language, appropriate age of consent etc are still surfacing.