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Law on special courts for sex offences

New Delhi, Jan. 15: Abandoning its earlier move to enact a law to award the death penalty to rapists, the Centre has decided to set up special courts to try cases relating to sex crimes.

A legislation — the Sexual Offences (Special Courts) Bill — to amend provisions of the CrPC 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act 1872 will be introduced in the budget session to facilitate setting up of special courts. These courts should be able to dispose of cases within six months to a year.

In the normal course, courts take much too long, protracting the agony of victims who have to appear before police and judicial officers any number of times. The authorities feel sex-related offences should be dealt with quickly also because of the way Indian society looks at rape victims — as if they were to be blamed somehow for the crime committed.

Government sources said deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani is keen on a stringent law to check crimes against women. He had even advocated capital punishment for rapists in a recent speech in Parliament.

But several MPs expressed the fear that the death penalty could become counter-productive as the rapist could be encouraged to kill the victim to destroy evidence. Some members argued that the possibility of death sentence might result in fewer convictions as, in the event of a victim not being able to produce convincing evidence, the judges would tend to set free the offender rather than award capital punishment and risk snuffing out the life of an innocent.

Rape, attempt to rape, attempt to molest, domestic violence causing injury to women and culpable homicide will be brought under the purview of the Bill. The proposed law will follow the pattern of the Terrorist Areas Related (Special Courts) Act 1984 which was enacted by the then Rajiv Gandhi government. This Act is still in the statute book and applicable throughout the country, especially in the militancy-affected areas.

Women lawyers and activists were guarded in their reaction to the proposal. Kirti Singh, counsel for the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, said the proposal was welcome “but the government should ensure that the special judges are sensitised to and made aware of what women go through in these experiences”.

Indira Jaisingh of Lawyers’ Collective, a specialist in gender cases, emphasised the importance of procedures. “Special courts should have special procedures to protect witnesses and victims,” she said.

Jyotsna Chatterjee of Joint Women’s Programme said: “The first thing needed is that people are sensitised and their mindset is changed.”

“When half the cases never get convicted, what’s the use of capital punishment'” she asked, questioning the earlier proposal.

She added that such cases had to be treated in court “without bias. We have enough laws, it’s the application of law that is biased”.

In a case of sexual abuse/harassment, the first step towards justice is action on the FIR which, of course, must be filed quickly. Action, in turn, depends on unbiased interpretation of the incident.

“Invariably, it is the woman or even the girl child who is projected as somebody who tempted or caused the problem. That bias has to be changed,” Chatterjee said.

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