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Eve-teasing on Jaya plate

Chennai, Oct. 30: The Jayalalithaa regime today set the ball rolling for a tougher law against eve-teasing and sexual harassment and sought to ban the ritual of burying persons alive while moving a clutch of important legislation in the Assembly.

The government also brought a Bill to replace the controversial Ordinance banning forcible conversions, ignoring vehement protests from the Opposition.

While the ban on burying people alive was prompted by the uproar in August over a bizarre temple ritual in Madurai’s Peraiyur village, where 105 children were “buried alive and retrieved immediately”, the tougher law against eve-teasing and sexual harassment will supercede the earlier Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Eve-Teasing Act, 1998.

Despite the earlier law, the state witnessed a wave of eve-teasing incidents last year, pushing the government to introduce the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women (Amendment) Bill. The Bill, which will be taken up tomorrow, has not only widened the scope of the earlier law by including the term “prohibition of harassment of women” as advised by several women’s groups, but also provides for more stringent punishment.

Anyone harassing or abetting harassment of women “within the precincts of any educational institution, temple or other place of worship, bus-stop, road, railway station, cinema theatre, park, beach, place of festival or in public service vehicles or in any other place” could be imprisoned for three years and fined Rs 10,000.

The Bill, based on the recommendations of the State Law Commission, refers to “harassment death” — if it could be shown that the death of a woman was preceded by harassment — and “harassment suicide”, wherein it has to be shown that just before committing suicide, a woman was abused.

In both cases, the new Bill stipulates that the court shall presume that the accused had caused the “harassment death” or abetted the “harassment suicide”. Thus, the onus of proving his innocence will be on the accused. The Bill also provides for the court to order compensation to the victims or their legal heir.

The law against eve-teasing enacted by the previous DMK regime after the Sarika Shah case, in which a college student in Chennai was killed in an eve-teasing incident, failed to curb the scourge. In fact, such occurrences have been on the rise, sometimes resulting in the death of college and schoolgirls.

Recently, Amudha, 20, of Nagercoil ended her life after being eve-teased. In another incident in the same district, two sisters, Saritha and Sabitha, had acid thrown on them.

After the case gained publicity, chief minister Jayalalithaa helped with their plastic surgery treatment and gave them money to pursue their studies.

But a more recent case in which four college students were arrested in Chennai for harassing an army officer’s daughter in a cinema hall but managed to get bail triggered the tougher Bill with a wider ambit.

The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Ritual and Practice of Burying Alive of a Person Bill, 2002, prohibits the burial of any person alive in any place of worship or its precincts as a ritual or practice for propitiating any deity. Persons violating the provisions of the Bill could be jailed for three years or fined up to Rs 5,000.

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