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Anti Rape Laws in India; How Effective Will They Be?

In order to reduce the striking rate of one rape case every twenty minutes in India, the penal code needs to be modified in order to accommodate different forms of non-consensual sex while ensuring that victim is not vilified.

Two recent cases of underage rape in the Badarpur area of New Delhi have once again shed light on what appears to be a rape endemic in India. According to UNICEF, 1 in 3 victims of rape in the country are children.

The two young girls, who were raped in separate incidents brings us back to December, to the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23 year old woman in India. The case put anti-rape laws in the country under great scrutiny.

Due to immense pressure exerted by widespread protests both internally and internationally, the Indian government reviewed its legislation around sexual assault, specifically rape. Protesters in December described the laws as weak and consequent punishment of offenders inadequate.

Students in New Delhi Protesting in December; Courtesy of Nilanjana Roy at Wikimedia Commons

A new stricter bill was introduced to members of the lower house. The laws will hold perpetrators to more rigid penalties for not only rape, but stalking and groping as well. The bill did not receive as much attention as expected with many absentees in the house.

In theory, the minimum sentence according to the old laws for an accused rapist found guilty is seven to ten years and the maximum is life in prison. This is compared to sentences handed out in the US for instance, that can range from 0 to an unlimited number of years if violence is used as a form of coercion.

If and/or when the changes are implemented, minimum sentence can reach up to 20 years for gang rape or rape of a minor and can reach to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Anti-rape laws in India date back to 1860 and have only been modified twice since. Activists are urging the legal panel to broaden the definition of rape itself while also increasing sentences for convicted rapists.

Rape is defined by Indian law as non-consensual penile penetration of the vagina. The degree of violence used is not specified and other possible forms of penetration are not detailed. However, in a more progressive light, a court can rely solely on a victim's testimony that the sex was forced. Other courts internationally, sometimes require that both parties involved testify to the offense being against a woman's will.

Activists argue that current laws in India carry very little bearing in bringing accused rapists to justice. No specific guidelines of conviction exist for the prosecuting judges. This can allow leniency for convicted rapists, depending on the victim involved in the case.

Currently, a judge maintains the right to modify the sentence based on external information pertaining to the victim; whether she is virgin or married for example allowing many accused rapists to simply walk free. The penal code itself carries sections that are heavy with arbitrary judgment based on characteristics of the victim such as her "immoral character".

In order to reduce the striking rate of one rape case every twenty minutes in India, the penal code needs to be modified in order to accommodate different forms of non-consensual sex while ensuring that victim is not vilified.

It should be noted however, that the problem is of a deeper nature, one that encompasses an entire corrupt system that perpetuates patterns of non-compliance be it in simple driving laws or more complex and consequential sexual assault codes. Along with a series of more specific laws around rape, a more rigorous system of implementation needs to be enforced. The bus on which December's victim was attacked did not stop for any of the supposedly mandatory checkpoints. The windows on the bus were tinted, which is a direct violation of the law. In fact, there was a robbery reported on that very bus earlier that day that the policed failed to investigate.

Activists are suggesting naming the new legislation after the young physiotherapy student whose case sparked mass media interest in rape laws in India. She was beaten and raped in moving bus in New Delhi and then thrown off bleeding. She died two weeks later in a hospital in Singapore as a result of the injuries she had sustained.

The six year old girl from earlier this week was found bleeding in a public toilet in her hometown in a puddle of blood with mutilated genitalia and a slit throat. She is currently in the hospital recovering.

An earlier version of this article was published on