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Stung Sonia steers women initiative

New Delhi, Dec. 31: Sonia Gandhi has spent the last few days consulting legal experts, women’s activists, politicians and administrators to pick their brains before deciding the contours of administrative and legislative mechanisms to ensure better security for women.

Although the Congress president has in the past been involved in pre-legislative processes through the National Advisory Council, which she heads, aides revealed her involvement has never been at such a personal level.

She has crossed the self-imposed restriction of directly engaging with ministers, they said.

The party confirmed this, with general secretary Janardan Dwivedi saying: “As Congress president, she can direct the government and I know she has given instructions on this issue.”

Sources said the suggestions Sonia has got include police reforms and comprehensive training of personnel, gender sensitisation of students, service sector personnel and the administration, fast-track courts for sex crimes, death penalty, imprisonment for whole life and chemical castration.

“The final draft of recommendations is yet to be made but all options are being studied,” an aide familiar with the exercise told The Telegraph.

Sonia today asked veteran leader Mohsina Kidwai to hold a meeting of the party’s women MPs and Mahila Congress activists to elicit their views. Among the wide-ranging suggestions, one idea that cropped up at this meeting was a state-wide register with a database of sexual offenders. This name-and-shame proposal, which robs the offender the luxury of anonymity, received overwhelming support.

An MP who attended the meeting said: “The offender, when released on bail or after completion of sentence, should be made to inform the local police station where he would reside. Information about him will be displayed so that decisions about him on renting houses, getting employment, marriage and social interactions are not taken in ignorance.”

Although there was unanimity on the need for a stringent law, the dominant view at the meeting was against death penalty or castration in all rape cases.

Most felt the nature of the punishment should be left to judicial wisdom. Even Sonia seems to have accepted the importance of a cautious approach to avoid miscarriage of justice, though she was completely shaken by the Delhi incident and wanted it to be the turning point in the fight against gender crimes.

“We don’t want a knee-jerk response, we want strong workable legislation as crime against women is a complex issue, involving societal attitudes, cultural realities and existing systemic biases. There can’t be a magic wand to cure this ill,” one minister said.

Congress leaders also rubbished the suggestion that the public outrage was a manifestation of people’s disenchantment with the government.

“Every change comes with this kind of an upheaval,” Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said.

“This sense of outpouring is not about governments or individuals. It is about the lack of sensitivity towards women…. We hope this becomes the turning point in India’s gender history.”