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Amid sharp criticism, government defends new anti-rape laws

Amid sharp criticism, government defends new anti-rape laws
New Delhi The government today countered a fusillade of criticism over the changes to anti-rape laws that it has introduced through an ordinance, signed yesterday by President Pranab Mukherjee. The conglomerate of changes, which introduced the death penalty for extreme rape cases, has to be cleared by parliament within six months.

"There will be changes in the ordinance," said Finance Minister P Chidambaram.  "There will be decisions with political parties, parliament...I appeal to everyone to complete the process in the parliament session." (Read: new anti-rape legislation)

The ordinance telegraphs the government's commitment to improving safety for women after the monstrous and fatal gang-rape of a student in Delhi knitted cities together in grief and anger. Critics, however, have dismissed the new laws as a rushed PR move to assuage public sentiment; they say the government should have cleared the changes after a discussion in parliament in the budget session that begins on the 21st of this month.

Women's groups have rejected the new laws, which have over-ruled many of the recommendations of the Justice Verma commission, appointed by the government after December's gang-rape which shamed India and made international headlines. The commission, named after its chair and former Supreme Court judge JS Verma, wanted marital rape to be treated as a criminal offense, and member of the armed forces to be tried according to criminal law for sexual crimes, rather than being prosecuted in army courts. The new laws do not allow for either. "Marital rape is a difficult issue on which we will have to hear the opinion of everybody; there is no universality of opinion on that," said Mr Chidambaram, denying that the government has not been faithful to the Verma commission's report.

The commission did not recommend the death penalty because it stressed that women's groups were unanimous in their opposition to this punishment.

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