New laws to punish rape and other crimes against women will be shared with Parliament today for discussion and debate. After a meeting with political leaders earlier on Monday, the cabinet cleared the anti-rape bill the same evening - the age of consent will be 18, and not 16, as it had been originally proposed.
The main opposition party, the BJP, and the Samajwadi Party had argued that lowering the age of consensual sex to 16 would encourage pre-marital sex, since women have to be at least 18 years old to get married.
Based on objections by other parties, the government has also agreed that stalking and voyeurism, which have been criminalised for the first time, will be watered down to prevent false cases at the request of the Samajwadi Party and others. The first offence in both these categories, for example, has been made bailable.
The Criminal Laws (Amendments) Bill 2013 has to be passed by Parliament before it breaks for a month on March 22. If that does not happen, changes to laws punishing crimes against women, introduced through an ordinance by the government in February, will lapse.
The exigent need for updated laws to protect women was driven home grimly by the fatal gang-rape of a medical student on a moving bus in Delhi in December. The monstrous attack triggered nationwide protests and a demand for better safety for women.
The government set up a three-member committee of legal experts to propose amendments to existing laws. The JS Verma Commission, named for the former chief justice who headed the panel, submitted its suggestions to the government, which incorporated most of them into the ordinance that was introduced in February.
However, the government over-ruled the Verma Commission and introduced the death penalty for extreme cases of sexual assault. It also ignored the recommendation to criminalise marital rape.