New India Rape Law Hailed By Advocacy Groups For Stiffening Punishments
NEW DELHI-Women's groups are hailing a new law, passed March 21, that stiffens punishments of sexual violence in the aftermath of the notorious gang rape last December that left a medical student dead.
"The bill has made some huge improvements. By making stalking and voyeurism punishable for the first time, the law has recognized insidious forms of sexual violence against women. This is a big step forward," says Kamla Bhasin, a veteran activist and advisor at Sangat, a South Asian feminist network based in Delhi.
Since stalking is often the first stage of a crime against women, Bhasin says, if it is not stopped or punished it can escalate to rape and murder. However, she adds that the real deterrence will come from changes in cultural attitude.
"The law is necessary. But laws alone cannot bring lasting change. Society needs to change their patriarchal attitude towards women. The public outrage against the Dec. 16 rape showed that it is happening. We need to keep pursuing multipronged efforts to sensitize both men and women," she says.
Equally important, many activists say, are protections and support programs for rape victims who survive their ordeals and need help contending with the aftermath of threats and harassment.
"Poor families need the financial resources to rebuild their lives," says Kavita Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women's Association, a group affiliated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. "Relocating is not easy for economically disadvantaged victims. Neither can they afford medical care. The government must announce a fund for their rehabilitation."