The prognosis of this not being enough is likely to hold true for the lofty sounding provisions that have been included in the anti-rape ordinance. Given the absence of a meaningful and effective judi
cial process, the new laws may at best achieve this: A rapist who once managed to evade a five-year jail term, will now duck twenty years in prison.
Our dysfunctional judicial system is the perfect form of legal kryptonite, negating any effort to ensure justice. In proposing high-minded anti-rape laws unaccompanied by political and judicial reform, the UPA government is dutifully fulfilling the prophecy of naysayers of legislation to stop crimes against women.
Our entrenched corruption, misogyny, hierarchy become a self-propagating excuse. No punishment, however high, for rape, stalking or acid attacks will be effective in a system that is broken. Legislation cannot be a substitute for genuine reform which requires legitimacy, enforcement and accountability.
We’re seeing a new urgency in India in demanding new laws and demanding quick delivery of ‘justice’, without thinking through the implications of not thinking through the implications. Take the
current ordinance passed by the president on tackling crimes against women. The government has been criticized roundly on how the ordinance has failed women and is considerably weaker than what the Justice Verma Committee had wanted.
The first point to remember is that this is now just an ordinance and requires Parliament to consider, debate and pass it as a bill for it to become a permanent law. Second, no one seems to bother about Chidambaram’s statement that issues such as marital rape, to give but one example, are complex and need to be debated and discussed and a consensus arrived at.
There are more than enough views on the Verma Committee report that criticize aspects of it, even as there are more than enough which support all aspects of it. The very fact that there are a number of opposing views that need to be discussed and argued on suggest that what the government has done is the correct thing to do: pass an ordinance where there is broad consensus.
The more important point to remember is that all laws can be amended. Laws are never cast in stone and can change according to changes in the views of lawmakers. Rather than condemn the current ordinance, those who want changes ought to enter the debate on the law – and help the lawmakers incorporate their views.