New Delhi, March 18: The cabinet today cleared the criminal law (amendment) bill retaining 18 as the age of consent for sex because of pressure from politicians, some of whom rued that the “stricter” provisions would rob the country of romance.
This remark by Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav was just one among many surprising ones at this afternoon’s consensus-seeking all-party meeting, where leader after leader seemed to betray the utmost incomprehension of terms such as “stalking”, “voyeurism” and “trafficking”.
“Mohabbat to ab khatam hi ho jaayega. Ladka jab ladki ke taraf dekhega nahi aur uska peechha nahi karega to mohabbat hoga kaise (Romance will die out now. If a boy doesn’t look at a girl or follow her, how can romance happen)?” Yadav said, according to a senior politician who was present but didn’t wish to be quoted.
The source said the fear was shared widely at the meeting. It would have consoled the politicians somewhat that the government has watered down the provisions on stalking and voyeurism, making first-time transgressions bailable so that these offenders can be let off with a warning. (See chart)
Yadav said he would support the tougher measures for repeat offenders since his party had decided to back the provisions.
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad too provided a moment of levity but this appeared an intentional effort at humour. He wondered whether he might be prosecuted for acts of stalking or voyeurism on his wife and was assured amid guffaws that this was very unlikely.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav took the prize. He claimed people resorting to “transfer and posting” of women at workplaces could be jailed under the bill’s provisions. Met with a chorus of denials, he held his ground and insisted he could prove it.
When he showed the “relevant portion” to leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, it left her speechless for some time.
The source told The Telegraph that Mulayam actually pointed towards the portion of the bill that deals with trafficking of women. The former chief minister had apparently confused “trafficking” with “transfer”.
“Ye mahilayon ke gair kanooni tareki se le jana aur gair kanooni kaam me lagana ke liye hai. Transfer-posting ke liye nahin (This is about illegally taking women away and forcing them into illegal professions. This is not about transferring or posting women employees),” Sushma explained. Mulayam nodded and the rest tried to suppress smiles.
The government was forced to amend the bill following large-scale street protests over the December gang rape and demands to make the law more stringent.
The Centre had promulgated an ordinance last month and raised the age of consent for sex to 18 from the penal code-mandated 16. Later, a cabinet meeting decided to reduce it back to 16.
But this led to howls of protest from some government departments and political parties such as Mulayam’s, which claimed this would promote teen sex and child abuse. Activists and lawyers, however, argued that the 18-year limit would encourage harassment of teens.
Eventually, the government bowed to political pressure. The bill will be introduced in Parliament on Tuesday.