NEW DELHI, India — India's new anti-rape bill has now cleared both houses of parliament and is set to become law.
The Rajya Sabha, or upper house, passed the bill on Thursday after only a brief debate, IANS news agency reported. The Lok Sabha, the lower house, approved it two days before.
The legislation, which increases the penalties for convicted rapists up to the death sentence in certain cases and expands the definition of sex crimes, is the government's response to public outcry over the gang-rape and subsequent death of a student in Delhi last December.
The 23-year-old victim "fought for her dignity," Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told lawmakers. "We can at least honor her by passing this bill soon."
India's new rape law is a landmark piece of legislation, not so much because it ushers in harsher penalties for rape, including the death penalty for repeat offenders who kill their victims, but because it criminalizes stalking and sexual harassment, and calls for harsh penalties for police officers who fail to register complaints.
However, India has long been a country of pretty sounding laws that are rarely enforced, and despite the penalties for police officers now on paper, that is unlikely to change — a sad reality that was signalled during the debate over the law. In discussions over whether the age of consent, or the bar for statutory rape, should be set at 16 or 18, as well as a debate over whether or not to make marital rape a crime, many parliamentarians proved that attitudes toward sexual violence and women's ownership of their own bodies have not changed enough.
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Still, Shinde called the legislation the most stringent in years, and said it would "impact the society for years to come."
Yet while activists have welcomed its new provisions on groping, stalking, sexual harassment and failures by the police to file women's complaints, there are also concerns that the bill doesn't address marital rape, child trafficking, or the seeming impunity of those in positions of power, including politicians.
During Thursday's debate, lawmakers suggested additional measures to protect women, including sensitivity training for police, more female officers, the extension of the law to transgender people, and morality classes for schoolchildren, according to Zee News.
Shinde said the government would be open to revising the bill if necessary, the Press Trust of India reported.