New Delhi: Maneka Gandhi, union minister for women and child development, today made a strong pitch in the Rajya Sabha for the Juvenile Justice Bill, which seeks to amend the law to allow trying those over 16 years of age and accused of heinous crimes, as adults.
It could not get "more nuanced and compassionate," the minister said as she urged the upper house to approve the bill, already passed by the Lok Sabha.
Present in Parliament as the house debates the Bill are Asha Devi and Badrinath, the parents of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student who was gang-raped by six men on a moving bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012. She died in a Singapore hospital 13 days later.
Ever since, Jyoti's parents have been demanding a change in the law. While Jyoti's other attackers have been sentenced to death, the youngest was released on Sunday after three years in a remand home. Now 20, he could not be tried in court for the brutal murder as he was a few months short of 18 at the time of the attack.
Speaking during the discussion, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said that the government was rushing to pass the bill due to protests over the release of the juvenile convict. Emphasizing on the need to broaden the scope of the bill, he said "juveniles should be made to attend classes where they can be trained and made to realize their mistakes."
Asha Devi said today after meeting Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi that he had assured her of his support. But, sources say, the support of his party, crucial for the bill to be passed in the Rajya Sabha, is not all that clear.
A section of the party wants the bill referred to a parliamentary panel called the select committee for further scrutiny. "We can't rush a bill which concerns crores of young people...it should go to a select committee," said Congress lawmaker Renuka Chowdhury, emphasizing that this was her "personal opinion."
Other party lawmakers like Rajiv Shukla want the bill passed today in deference to public sentiment. There have been massive protests since the release of Jyoti's attacker.
Sources say wilting under public pressure, many parties including BJP allies the Shiv Sen and the Shiromani Akali Dal also want the bill to be sent to the select committee. They are likely to opt for a wait and watch approach and might not go public with their stand.
Parties like the Janata Dal United have however openly voiced their reservation against the bill. "Justice should not be replaced by passion for revenge," party leader Pawan Verma said.
During the debate, Trinamool Congress lawmaker Derek O'Brien said he supports the bill and urged parliament "not to wait for an ideal bill". As the father of a 20-year-old daughter, he said, he would have probably shot a rapist rather than trust the laws of the country.
Asha Devi says she understands that a change in law will now not affect her case, but feels it is the least she can do for other women.