Several activists, lawyers and women’s organisations have urged Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to not table the Shakti bill, calling it draconian legislation that is fundamentally anti-women with the potential to negate the very offence of rape.
A statement from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said last Wednesday that two bills will be tabled in the legislature – the Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2020, and the Special Court & Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law, 2020 – to give shape to the law against perpetrators of crime against women and children.
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The draft bill will be tabled in the state legislature during the upcoming two-day winter session in Mumbai on December 14-15. The bills are meant to bring down the rate of crime against women and propose the death penalty, stern punishment, life sentence, hefty fines as retributions for the offences.
The consensus of a large group of feminist activists, lawyers, women’s organisation leaders and academicians working on the issue is that the bills go against their fundamental beliefs and principles.
They have said in a letter, dated December 11, that the proposed amendment to Section 375 that says where parties are adults and the conduct of such parties from all circumstances surrounding the same appears that there was consent or implied consent, presumes consent, negates the entire definition of consent under the section and of rape itself. It said that this is a step back for women’s right after the 2013 amendments wherein as per Verma Committee’s report the definition of consent was added to the section.
“While the Act is said to be made for justice to women it feeds into the patriarchal construction of consent and conduct of women. It goes against the statement and object of this Bill. In a lot of cases of rape, the accused take the plea of consent with such an explanation added it will become impossible for the prosecution to establish rape. Such an explanation negates and nullifies the very offence of rape,” the letter with 92 signatories said.
They said the bill came to them on December 10 hence giving them less time for a detailed review and critique. It also questioned the potency of the death penalty as an effective deterrent for crimes against women and stated the proposed amendments can lead to endangering the lives of survivors and less reportage in case of sexual assaults on children as reports suggest that most of the offences under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) act are committed by people known to children.
Organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana, MumbaiBebaakCollective, MumbaiBhartiya Mahila Federation (NFIW), TISSStree Mukti Sanghatana; advocates Indira Jaising, Veena Gowda and Rouble Sarkar; professors Asha Bajpai and Anjali Monteiro; activists Manisha Gupte and Snehal Velkar and others have signed the letter opposing the draft bills.