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Amnesty for neutral sex crime laws

New Delhi, Jan. 11: Amnesty International has proposed a stand-alone “gender-neutral” legislation on sexual violence that focuses on physical and mental torture while avoiding words like “honour”, “modesty” and “morality” mentioned in the context of women in existing laws.

The suggestions have been sent to the Justice Verma Committee examining laws on crimes against women against the backdrop of last month’s Delhi gang rape. If they are accepted, it will help bring laws on gender violence in India on a par with international norms, the global rights body has said.

As of now, no such laws are gender-neutral, except the Protection of Children against Sexual Violence Act.

“All persons should be equally protected by law from violence with no discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity or appearance,” Amnesty has said, laying down the framework for legislation on violence against women.

Amnesty has also frowned on terms like “honour”, “modesty” and “morality”, which some lawyers say are mentioned only in laws on women. Examples include Section 354 (criminal assault with intent of outraging modesty) and Section 509 (Word gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).

The lawyers say such sections are commonly used in court to cast aspersions on the character of the victim. “The only two aspects needed for prosecution in rape cases is physical violence and criminal intent,” said Supreme Court lawyer Shilpi Jain. She had represented the victim in the 2006 rape case where Bitti Mohanty, the son of a senior Odisha IPS officer, was convicted. Bitti fled later and is a fugitive from justice.