Parliament today passed the anti-rape bill providing natural life term or even death for repeat offenders of rape, with Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde stating the "law will impact the society for years to come".
Terming it as a "unique law", he said the government is open to further improvement if there is such a need.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 commonly known as the anti-rape bill was passed by Rajya Sabha after amendments moved by Left MPs were defeated. The Lok Sabha had passed the legislation on March 19.
Replying to queries, Shinde said the purpose of the bill is to provide stringent punishment also for offences like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and human trafficking.
"The bill is significant as it aims to protect mothers and sisters of this country. Over years, such stringent law has not been made," he noted.
On whether influential people would be covered under the law, the minister said, "Those in authority who abuse and influence victims...politicians and all financially influential persons are covered under section 367 of the law."
The Bill seeks to replace an Ordinance promulgated on February 3, which will expire on April 4. It seeks to amend the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
On human trafficking of minor girls, the Minister said the government has taken cognisance of this offence and certain sections have been incorporated to give stringent punishment. "Police officers and executive officers involved in such offence will also be punished under the law," he said.
Earlier, while moving the bill, Shinde said the "conscience of whole nation was shaken" in the aftermath of December 16 gangrape and a clarion call was given for complete overhaul of laws on rape.
"After the horrendous gangrape, government constituted Justice Verma Committee" to ensure speedy justice and enhanced punishment to offenders.
He said new offences have been included in IPC and provisions are also being made for acid attacks. Harsher punishments are being prescribed for crime against women, he said.
Shinde said, "The eyes of the nation are on us and let us honour (through legislative framework) the braveheart who sacrificed herself fighting for honour and dignity."
As per the bill, an offender can be sentenced to rigourous imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than 20 years, but may extend to life, meaning imprisonment for remainder of that person's natural life and with a fine.
It has provisions for handing out death sentence to offenders who may have been convicted earlier for such crimes.
The Bill, for the first time, defines stalking and voyeurism as non-bailable offences if repeated for a second time. Perpetrators of acid attack will attract a 10-year jail term.
Bachchan termed the bill as "anti-male" saying "in order to provide justice to one part of the society, you cannot be unfair to the other section. This bill can be misused.
She said stalking was done by women also as one could hear very often women saying that "that man is so hot...Please do not do justice to one section at the cost of the other."
She objected to usage of "patronising words" such as "protection" in case of women. "You have made the pepper spray also cheaper. It is so patronisng," she said.
Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U) objected to portrayal of women as "objects of sex" in television advertisements and urged that the practice should be stopped immediately.
Najma Heptulla (BJP) said since the bill was being cleared in a hurry, the Home Minister should assure the House that the bill would be brought back for discussion once the session resumes after the month-long recess from tomorrow.
She said the Juvenile Justice Act should be changed as children of today are becoming mature much earlier than earlier days.
Vasanthy Stanley (DMK), V Maitreyan (AIADMK), Ashok Ganguly (Nom) and Bharatkumar Raut (Shiv Sena) also spoke.
Venkaiah Naidu (BJP), who headed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home that looked into anti-rape bill, said the law is the right step in the right direction but certain aspects of the bill are not discussed and some points are missing.
"Please go through the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Mere bill will not solve the problem. What is required is political will," he said.
He said ragging should be make cognisable offence. It also sought incorporation of some suggestions like mandatory filing of FIR, time limit to take action, strengthening women police, judicial reforms, moral education and fixing responsibility of higher officials in the bill.
He complained that the government has not given sufficient time to discuss the bill. "Include all suggestion and bring a more progressive bill," he said.
Ravishankar Prasad (BJP) sought to know as to what would happen if hospitals failed to provide medical help to rape victims. He also said that proper infrastructure facilities were required to provide speedy justice to rape victims.
D Raja (CPI) said the Ordinance was brought to score political mileage and was done in haste without due consideration of the Justice Verma panel recommendations.
Raja, who had moved a statutory resolution to disapprove the Ordinance, said there was "systematic, widespread violence against women of India...It is duty of Parliament to respond through a legislation."
Maya Singh (BJP) lamented that girls were neither safe at home, nor outside and situation has deteriorated to such an extent that an NGO during a survey found that 53 per cent of children were sexually abused.
She demanded speedy trial in rape cases besides ensuring that a rape victim is not tortured in court during interrogations.
She said if any juvenile carried out such an act, he should not be considered juvenile.
Prabha Thakur (Cong) sought stringent punishment to offenders of such crime citing how strong legislations in countries like Middle East, Russia and China had resulted in curbing such incidents.
S C Misra (BSP) demanded fast-tracking such cases and appointment of women judges for hearing of such cases.
T N Seema (CPI-M) expressed apprehension that certain provisions in the bill would be detrimental for adolescent boys in case of sex through consent.
"How can you send a young boy to jail for falling in love or biological attraction," she asked, apprehending that such provisions could become tool in the hands of parents of rich girls to harass boys.
Derek O'Brien (Trinamool) said during the Shimla accord between India and Pakistan the government has used the code "A boy is born" to send the message that talks were a success, which reflected on the mindset of the UPA government.